Misunderstandings of Enlightenment, and the Truth

【 Abstract 】
Hong, Sa-sung
(Director of the Buddhism Broadcast)

This article contemplates four important themes of enlightenment through the Sutras. The first theme is about the content of enlightenment. In the Buddhist tradition, enlightenment is not deemed as something mysterious or special. Instead, it is understanding of the law of interrelationship which is as simple and easy as common sense. Things rise as a result of the interactions of cause and effect. Therefore, everything disappears when its cause and conditions fade away. All beings are governed by the law of uncertainty, which means that a substantial self does not exist by itself. One should know that this interrelationship between things is what is in the essence of enlightenment.

Secondly, enlightenment is not a possession of a few gifted people. It is open to all those who search for wisdom. Many arahans during the Buddha’s lifetime attained enlightenment that was not different from Gautama Buddha’s. The only difference between them is that the Buddha became their teacher just because he was enlightened ahead of them, and the ones who attained enlightenment after him became his disciples.

Third, there is no other special way to enlightenment than incorporating the Eightfold Path into life. All the truth is already revealed by the Buddha. The only thing we need to do is to acknowledge the truth the Buddha illuminated and to walk the path he showed to us.

Fourth, the last thing examined in this study is the difference between the enlightened and the common mortal. Buddhas are the ones who transcended the three poisons of greed, anger, and ignorance, which the common mortals experience in contact with the external environment.

The discussion about enlightenment has been avoided because it has been considered something mysterious and special. This is one of the reasons why enlightenment has not been properly understood. In order to get a better understanding of enlightenment, open and active discussions will be necessary. By doing so, we will be able to make our life-long Buddhist practice valuable and worthwhile.

【 Key words 】

enlightenment, the law of cause and effect, the five aggregates, uncertainty, non-self, ignorance, five bodies of the Dharma, ten names of the Buddha, the eightfold path

Contemplation on the 25 methods of Jigye and practicing Jigwan

Contemplation on the 25 methods of Jigye and practicing Jigwan
Kim, Jong-Du (Lecturer, Univ. of Dongguk)

Sage Jiui observed lots of destroying humanities during Nambukjo age’s confusion and wars, so he emphasized to have Gye for their restoration and practice. Many people became bonzes and started to practice, but the number of people to get comprehension decreased every year. Sage Jiui analyzed the reason critically. He thoroughly followed Gyehang in Mt. Cheontaesan and practiced. Then, his thoughts made great strides and that was the momentto make Cheontaesamdaebu. Those thoughts were extended to Gwanjeong, Damyeon, and Samyeongjirye, and made religious influence of Cheontaejong greater. Jigye idea was on the base.

Sage Jiui believedthat it is impossible to regard Gye and Jigwanhaeng separately. Therefore, he insists it is not possible to correctly practice without correct gye and you have to get rid of sin by contrition when you violate any of gye.

Thus, all of the current ascetics both married priests and bonzes should re-consider and comprehend its significance.

【 Key words 】 Jiui, Jigye (observing the Buddhist commandments), Mahajigwan, repentance, expedient

The study on practice of āhāra(food, nutriment) in the Early Buddhism

【 Abstract 】
The study on practice of āhāra(food, nutriment)
in the Early Buddhism
Shin, Byoung-Sam
(Researcher, in Institute of Electronic Buddhist Texts & Culture Contents)

All of beings maintain their life with something to eat(food, nutriment). The buddhist terms for something to eat(food, nutriment) is āhāra. The buddhist term āhāra is translated into chinese character ‘食’. The original meaning of āhāra is to bring something. Therefore the relationship between subject and object should be maintained by something which subject brings from object, and life force should be continuous.

So the meaning of āhāra contains not only something to eat(food, nutriment) but also sense-impression, volitional thought, consciousness. At this point something to eat(food, nutriment), sense-impression, volitional thought, consciousness are assimilated to son’s flesh, skinned cow, a lump of charcoal in a blaze, a hundred lance one by one. The buddhist view of something to eat(food, nutriment) is negative rather than positive. Because ascetics need something to eat(food, nutriment) for maintaining their life, and their ultimate purpose is to accomplish emancipation from the sufferings of the transmigration of souls which make every endeavor to maintain life. On that account ascetic exercises are mentioned something to eat(food, nutriment) with relevance.

There is the perception of loathsomeness in something to eat(food, nutriment) which helps access concentration(upacāra) by ten methods: 1) as to going, 2) seeking, 3) using, 4) secretion, 5) receptacle, 6) what is uncooked(undigested), 7) what is cooked(digested), 8) fruit, 9) outflow, and 10) smearing.

And in mendicancy ascetic exercises which always ingest something to eat(food, nutriment) to the extent of the minimum quantity for maintaining life is assumed: 1) alms-food-eater’s practice, 2) house-to-house seeker’s practice, 3) one-sessioner’s practice, 4) bowl-food-eater’s practice, and 5) later-food-refuser’s practice. With these ascetic exercises, ascetic exercises attain Buddhahood little by little.

Human beings whom are inseparably related to something to eat(food, nutriment) have a tendency to regard something to eat(food, nutriment) as an object of indulgence which is originated in delusion.

By above-mentioned ascetic exercises human beings whom cause greed(lobha), hate(dosa), and delusion(moha) in connection with something to eat(food, nutriment) should be lead an satisfactory, joyful, boundless style of living.

【 Key Word 】

āhāra(food, nutriment) / sense-impression / volitional thought / consciousness / the perception of loathsomeness in food / access concentration(upacāra) / alms / delusion(moha)․greed(lobha)․hate(dosa) / Lokavidū(Knower of Worlds)

Study on character transformation and Zen therapy


Study on character transformation and Zen therapy

(focusing on maladjusted soldiers and officers)

Ph. D, Kim Mal-hwan

Most of maladjusted soldiers and officers have excessive depression due to inadequate personal relationships and anxiety that comes from anticipating their future environment.

Such clients have a negative distorted view of themselves from early childhood. Thus they are always filled with the thought of oppressing themselves and attacking others. This is why they are constantly anxious and distressed.

This kind of false idea clings onto oneself as a distorted sense of self and does not allow one to see the true nature of oneself.

To get rid of this anxious state of mind, meditation practice has some good effects. Especially, breathing-meditation, walking-meditation, eating-meditation and so forth have significant effects on psycho-therapy.

Because practice of meditation is excellent in letting us get back to the true sense of ourselves, it can change false ideas into pure mind.

As it changes anxiety into stable and pure, wise and generous mind, our negative ideas turn into positive thinking, and rather than separating oneself from another and thus guarding against nonself it enables us to see another as helpful partners and thus share together.

When the clients go into this stage they gradually open their hearts and turn into positive and outgoing people.

As this links directly to a happier life, zen therapy which opens the closed mind can become one important therapy.

* Key words


Maladjusted solders


Clinging scale

Depression and unrest-scale

Zen therapy




Door of mind

A Study on Mahāyana Buddhism and Vegetarianism


A Study on Mahāyana Buddhism and Vegetarianism

Lee, Jae-so

(Researcher of Electronic Buddhist Text Institute,

Dongguk Univ.)

The Śākyamuni Buddha may have permitted monks to eat meat under very limited circumstances. There are three instances in which meat may be eaten: when it is not seen, not heard, and not suspected. The Buddha and monks got their food either by going on donations or by being invited to the houses of their supporters and in both cases they ate what he was given. In early Buddhism we should be remember that the First Precept prohibits killing. It also makes anyone who causes another to take a life equally culpable. Eating meat is the cause of killing animals and it is clearly a violation of the First Sila.

Why do Mahāyana Buddhism advocate vegetarianism? The main reason is maitrī-karuṇa(compassion), and because we cannot bear to eat the flesh of living beings.

The Mahā-parinirvāṇa Sūtra tells us that if we eat the meat of living beings, we are destroying the seeds of compassion. And In the Laṅkāvatāra Sūtra says, how can the Bodhisattva who desires to approach all living beings as if they were himself and to practice the Buddha-truths, eat the flesh of any living being that is of the same nature as himself?

At the conclusion of this study, I say that practice of compassion and mercy toward all beings in the world must necessary lean on Ahiṃsā(non-violence) and vegetarianism.

Jñānaśrībhadra and Jñānavajra: Their Biographical Approaches.

Jñānaśrībhadra and Jñānavajra:

Their Biographical Approaches
Kim, Su-ah *

• Table of Contents •
I. Introduction
II. Biographical Accounts of Jñānaśrībhadra
III. Biographical Accounts of Jñānavajra
IV. Conclusion

․ Bibliography

I. Introduction

Although not well known by modern Buddhist scholars, Jñānaśrībhadra of Kashimir and Jñānavajra, born in India during the eleventh and twelfth centuries respectively, each wrote a commentary on the Laṅkāvatārasūtra (abb. LAS), which is currently included in the Tibetan canon. In addition to his commentary on the LAS, Jñānaśrībhadra also wrote a commentary entitled the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkārapiṇḍārtha, which is based on Maitreyanātha’s Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkāra, and another on Dharmakīrti’s Pramāṇaviniścaya, which is called the Pramāṇaviniścayaṭīkā. Jñānaśrībhadra was an exponent to the Yogācāra school Maitreyanātha founded in the early third century in India, but also followed the school of Buddhist logic and epistemology, established in India during the sixth century by Dignāga and Dharmakīrti in the seventh century.

Furthermore, regarding Jñānavajra we can assume that he belonged to the Yogācāra-Svātantrika-Madhyamaka school during the twelfth century, due to the fact that the content of his commentary on the LAS relied on the philosophical methods of the Yogācāra-Svātantrika-Madhyamaka school. The personal and philosophical backgrounds of Jñānaśrībhadra and Jñānavajra have yet to be thoroughly uncovered. Because of the lack of data on Jñānaśrībhadra and Jñānavajra’s life and scholarship, I will explore these by focusing on their connections not only with other Indian Buddhists, but also in the transmission of Tibetan Buddhism by analyzing the contents of their commentaries on the LAS. Also I will explain the historical events of this period, which affected their lives and writings.

Due to the lack of traditional accounts of the history of Indian Buddhism, biographical information about later eminent Indian Buddhist scholars also needs to be investigated especially in relation to Tibetan historical materials. From the eighth through the twelfth centuries, Indian Buddhists were involved in the transmission of Buddhism into Tibet. Relying on the modern scholarship concerning Jñānaśrībhadra, we know that he was a famous Buddhist logician who was educated in Kashmir during the rule of King Harśadeva. While in Tibet he was connected to the so-called “Old Epistemology” school (tshad ma rnying ma), originally established by Rma Lo tsā ba Dge ba’i blo gros (ca. 1020~1080), in the middle of the eleventh century. Thus, Jñānaśrībhadra’s identity may be approached from two means: first, by his relationship with other eleventh century Buddhist logicians in India, and secondly, by his connections to early Tibetan Buddhists.

Unlike Jñānaśrībhadra, the identity of Jñānavajra is difficult to ascertain, because the details of his life have not been adequately established. H. Hadano focused primarily on Jñānaśrībhadra and his works, although he does briefly mention Jñānavajra’s philosophical position.

Based on his philosophical position, regarding ‘cognitive centrism’ (vijñaptimadhyama, rnam rig dbu ma), unique to the school of Yogācāra-Svātantrika-Madhyamaka in the late Indian Buddhism, I believe that Jñānavajra is one of the later Indian Buddhist philosophers of Yogācāra-Svātantrika-Mādhyamikas. Therefore, in my clarification of Jñānavajra’s identity, I will focus mainly on the traditions of the Indian Buddhist school of Yogācāra-Svātantrika-Madhyamaka in addition to some schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Furthermore, Jñānavajra’s nationality has been uncertain because of a lack of biographical information and due to the fact that his commentary, preserved only in the Tibetan canon, does not contain the translator’s name on the colophon. His name has only come down to us in a Tibetan translaton: “Ye shes rdo rje.” In Sanskrit this name would read “Jñānavajra.” His only work known to us is Tathāgatahṛdayālaṃkāra, his commentary on the LAS found in the Tibetan canon. In all colophons, this work is ascribed to Ye shes rdo rje who, they say, was a “Chinese abbot” (rgya’i mkhan po). I believe there is plenty of evidence in the text itself to show that this colophone is incorrect. He was an Indian, and not a Chinese scholar. I hope to resolve the issue of Jñānavajra’s nationality utilizing the contents of his commentary, although the relationship between Jñānavajra and the Tibetan Buddhist schools of that period is obscure. Because Jñānavajra cites Jñānaśrībhadra in his commentary on the LAS. It can be assumed that Jñānavajra lived later than Jñānaśrībhadra. Based not only on the contents of his commentary on the LAS in relation t Jñānaśrībhadra’s commentary, both of which were translated into Tibetan, I believe that Jñānavajra’s work influenced twelfth century Tibetan Buddhism. However, here, I will attempt to clarify his biographical data.

II. Biographical Accounts of Jñānaśrībhadra

Due to the lack of biographical information regarding Jñānaśrībhadra’s life, the earliest actual accounts available to date are Tāranātha’s (1575~1634) History of Buddhism in India and ‘Gos Lo tsā ba Gzhon nu dpal’s (1392~1482) The Blue Annals. However, although modern scholars also have been unable to ascertain Jñānaśrībhadra’s date of birth, they estimate Jñānaśrībhadra’s date of birth to have been during the eleventh century.

Hadano, after examining Tibetan historical materials, notes:

It would certainly be mistaken to place the period of his [Jñānaśrībhadra’s) activities somewhere in the middle to the late years of the eleventh century A.D., in view of the above-mentioned people, such as Sajjana, Rma Dge ba’i blo ‘gros, Khyung po Chos kyi brtson ‘grus, and Khyung po Grags seng, who surrounded him.

Hadano’s major criterion revolved around the Tibetan Buddhist religious council of 1076 A.D., which was sponsored by King Mnga’ bdag Rtse lde in Tibet. Hadano also mentions other council participants, some of whom included Jñānaśrībhadra’s name in their biographical works about the eleventh century Tibetan Buddhist scholars studying in northern India. Another possible date is proposed by J. Naudou, who places Jñānaśrībhadra’s birth during the eleventh century, sometime during the reign of king Kalaṣa and Harśadeva.

Even though the aforementioned date is useful, to some extent, it is, in my opinion, still unsatisfactory. In an effort to argument material centered on Jñānaśrībhadra’s biography, I will begin with his significance in the history of Indian Buddhism.

Steeped in the tradition of Indian Buddhist logic, Jñānaśrībhadra studied the extensive works of both Maitreyanātha’s five works and Dharmakīrti’s works, attaining eminence in Kashmir as a Buddhist logician. In fact, Tāranātha mentions Jñānaśrībhadra’s fame in Kashmir, noting that Jñānaśrībhadra was too busy to accept the many invitations offered by the Tibetan king. However, Jñānaśrībhadra finally did travel to Tibet, where he was regarded as a famous Buddhist logician, and called him Mahāpaṇḍita or Kashmirian paṇḍita by Tibetan Buddhists.

However, there is still a point of difficulty regarding the details of Jñānaśrībhadra’s life. Tāranātha has influenced the already controversial details of Jñānaśrībhadra’s biography by stating that Jñānaśrībhadra was one of the four major followers of Suvarṇadvīpa (Dharmakīrti or Dharmapāla). This observation presents further confusion in that Jñāśrīmitra was one of Dharmapāla’s disciples in the Vikramaśīla monastery in northern India while Jñānaśrībhadra was a Buddhist logician in Kashmir, as has been noted by the Buddhist scholar Naudou. Because of the discrepancies concerning this issue I will look more closely at Jñānaśrībhadra’s career as a Buddhist logician.

During the tenth and eleventh centuries, the cities of Kashmir and Magadha both located in northern India were appropriate places for the study of Buddhism, especially for the study of Buddhist logic and Madhyamaka thought. In The Religions of Tibet author G. Tucci writes:

Ye shes ‘od chose several youths and sent them to Kashmir to study the Buddhist teachings. One of these youths was later to become prominent under the name of Rin chen bzang po (958-1055). Kashmir was an appropriate place not only because of its nearness, but also because the last splendor of Buddhist schools then held sway there, and famous religious teachers preserved both the speculative and logical tradition, and the practice of tantra and ritual.

In addition, Naudou divides the relationship between Kashmirian Buddhist teachers and Tibetan Buddhists into two periods:

1. Buddhists in Kashmir and the activity of Kashmiri Buddhists in Tibet at the beginning of the seventh century until the persecution by Glang-Dar-ma.

2. The contribution of Kashmir to the second propagation of the doctrine and, in particular, her role in diffusion of logic and of the Vajrayana.

Based on the information presented above, and the strength of Buddhist study in Kashmir, I believe that Jñānaśrībhadra was a well versed scholar of Buddhist logic.

On the other hand, during the tenth and the eleventh centuries in the Vikramaśīla monastery, there were three Buddhist logicians: Ratnākaraśānti, Jñānaśrīmitra, and Ratnakīrti. It is from the biography of Atiśa (ca. 982~1054), the most famous Buddhist scholar of Indian and Tibetan Buddhism that the identities of these three logicians are known.

According to Kajiyama’s work, when Atiśa stayed in Vikramaśīla monastery, he studied Buddhist logic with Dharmapāla’s disciples, among whom were included Ratnākaraśānti, Jñānaśrīmitra, and Ratnakīrti. Around 1041, when Atiśa left Vikramaśīla monastery and traveled to Tibet, Ratnākaraśānti was the chief abbot in Vikramaśīla monastery. Kajiyama suggests that these three above Buddhist logicians were active in the early and middle eleventh century. He also notes that, in their texts of logic, they frequently mention the ideas of contemporary Buddhist and non-Buddhist logicians. To date, Jñānaśrībhadra’s name is not mentioned in the works of any of these logicians. I believe that this strongly indicates that Jñānaśrībhadra was not their contemporary, but instead wrote later in the eleventh century.

Jñānaśrībhadra’s move to Tibet was a popular story in the history of Indian Buddhism, mainly because it is described in the Tāranātha’s History and in the The Blue Annals the details of Jñānaśrībhadra’s life initially appeared in the historical sources of Tibetan Buddhism, especially the texts of the “Old Epistemology” school, established by Rma Lo tsā ba. While living in Tibet, Jñānaśrībhadra translated his own commentaries, the Mahāyānasūtrālaṃkārapiṇḍārtha (Toh. 4031) and the Pramāṇaviniścayaṭīkā (Toh. 4211), into Tibetan with the assistance of the translator Khyung po Chos kyi brtson ‘grus, and he also translated Dharmakīrti’s Vādanyāya with the help of the famous Tibetan Buddhist Rma Lo tsā ba. Because of these translations, I think that Jñānaśrībhadra worked in Tibet with some Tibetan logicians and as a result, was called “Mahāpaṇḍita” or “Kashmirian paṇḍita” by Tibetan Buddhists.

Unlike Atiśa, whose biography indicates that he traveled to Tibet in 1042, there are no traditional accounts which date Jñānaśrībhadra’s move to Tibet. At this point I must clarify some of the dates which I have already discussed. While studying Buddhist logic and Madhyamaka ideas Rngog Lo tsā ba Blo lden ses rab (1059~1109) resided in Kashmir from 1076 until 1092; and Pa tshab Nyi ma grags, born in 1055, lived and studied in Kashmir for 23 years sometime between the late eleventh and early twelfth century. Both of the Tibetan Buddhist scholars mentioned above, did not cite Jñānaśrībhadra’s activities in their own time spent in Kashmir. In addition, Naodou suggests that Jñānaśrībhadra’s career preceded the arrival of Rngog Lo tsā ba and Nyi ma grags.

Based on Rngog Lo tsā ba’s biography, the most plausible theory is that Jñānaśrībhadra left Kashmir for Tibet just after Rngog Lo tsā ba had arrived in Kashmir in 1076; and, by the time Rngog Lo tsā ba returned to Tibet in 1092, after 17 years of study in Kashmir, Jñānaśrībhadra had already passed away. In Tibetan Buddhism, the “New Epistemology” (tshad ma gsar ma) was founded after Rngog Lo tsā ba returned to Tibet in 1092. Therefore, since Jñānaśrībhadra’s translations contributed to the “Old Epistemology” school in Tibetan Buddhism, he obviously lived in Tibet between 1076 and 1090. Taking into account all the currently existing historical materials found in both Indian and Tibetan Buddhism, I can say with a large degree of certainty that Jñānaśrībhadra’s date of birth is some time between 1020~1080.

Based on L. W. J. van der Kuijp’s periodicization of the Tibetan Epistemology school, both of the old and the new belong to the pre-classical period. Although Jñānaśrībhadra is connected to the “Old Epistemology” school in Tibetan Buddhism, his educational lineage is continuously connected to the “New Epistemology” school. In the same context, Onoda points out that, during the time of Phya pa Chos kyi seng ge (1109~1169), there existed both old and new epistemology schools in the gSang phu ne’u thog monastery. After returning from Kashmir in 1092, this is the monastery where Rngog Lo tsā ba wrote many Buddhist commentaries.

At this point, I will concentrate on the relationships that existed between Jñānaśrībhadra and the Tibetan Buddhist school, rather than detailing the history of the Tibetan Epistemology school. A parallel to Jñānaśrībhadra’s educational background appears in Gser mdog Pan chen’s brief biography of Rngog Lo tsā ba, considered to be the founder of the “New Epistemology” school in Tibetan Buddhism. During his 17 years in India, Rngog Lo tsā ba studied the seven works of Dharmakīrti and the five works of Maitreyanātha. The Blue Annals also contains a short biography of Rngog Lo tsā ba, but there is no detailed information regarding his studies. Only mention is made that while in Kashmir, he was the attendant of six teachers, including the paṇḍita Sajjana and Parāhitabhadra. However, after returning to Tibet, he composed commentaries, taught logic (tshad ma), the Five Treatises of Maitreyanātha (byams chos sde lña), the Mādhyamika doctrine, and extensive other texts. I think that we can infer the focus of his studies while in Kashmir by noting his activities in Tibet.

III. On Jñānavajra

I now turn to the question of the identity of Jñānavajra, which can be inferred from his LAS commentary and his relation to Jñānaśrībhadra. Jñānavajra was a commentator on the LAS who came from India. Jñānavajra’s commentary contains quotations from Jñānaśrībhadra’s commentary. For example:

Furthermore, since the learned Ācarya Jñānaśrībhadra has stated the connectedness of this very sutra, do not doubt (this).

This quote serves as an evidence that Jñānavajra wrote his work after Jñānaśrībhadra. There is not, however, any information about his date of birth. Based on my previous assumption in the second section, namely that Jñānaśrībhadra probably lived between 1020 and 1080, I conclude that Jñānavajra’s date of birth or the period in which he lived was during the late eleventh and the early twelfth century, or 1050~1110.

Despite the lack of biographical data, we can assume that Jñānavajra belongs to the Svātantrika-Madhyamaka school’s philosophical lineage. Especially, he belongs to the Yogācāra-Svātantrika-Madhyamaka school since he relies heavily on Kamalaśīla’s ideas. When Jñānavajra explains the argument of one and many in his work, he states that it is said like what was taught from the master Kamalaśīla. In addition, in his commentary, he applies the probative syllogism (*svatantra hetu) to his argument:

Therefore, if by means of a probative syllogism (*svatantra hetu), the cessation [of a belief in things] is made understood for oneself or others, in this case, the subject is the subject when it appears commonly to the opponent and proponent for denying the external object such as form etc. The mere appearance established by the valid cognition of the direct perception etc. is liberated the fault of it being a non-established subject.

Hadano has also observed:

The Tathāgatahṛdayālaṃkāra corresponds completely to the Tibetan translation of the Āryalaṅkāvatārasūtra (Toh. 107), and it takes the standpoint that the myriad pure and defiled dharmas are all manifestations of mind (citta), that they are not different to mind, and that they are mind-itself, in other words, the standpoint of the Rnam par rig pa tsam gyi dbu ma (vijñapti-mātrika-mādhyamika) which considers saṃvṛtti and paramārtha as two sides of the same coin, and discards duality.

Let us examine the term rnam par rig pa tsam gyi dbu ma (vijñapti-mātrika-mādhyamika) in the above quotation. In Jñānavajra’s first chapter, as mentioned above, he refers to himself as one who practices ‘cognitive centrism’ (rnam rig dbu ma, vijñaptimadhyama), thereby revealing his philosophical identity with the notion of mind-only. Ruegg and Kajiyama reveal that throughout the history of Indian Buddhism, to date, the word *vijñaptimadhyama appears only in Ratnākaraśānti’s works. Ratnākaraśānti, in the eleventh century, wrote several Buddhist commentaries from the perspective of *vijñaptimadhyama. In later Indian Buddhism, the above word is considered to be an epithet for the Yogācāra-Svātantrika-Madhyamaka school.

Even though Jñānavajra utilizes the term rnam rig dbu ma, he does not entirely follow Ratnākaraśānti’s idea. This is because in the beginning of his commentary he mentions his opponents:

So, also to say that those who claim specifically the color-form aggregates that derived from elements, the essence of the external (world) and those who speck of the mere cognition is false deal with what does not exist, is not correct; (this) will be shown below.

In fact, Ruegg indicates that Ratnākaraśānti is considered to hold the Alīkākāravada position. Although it is not clear that Jñānavajra held the Sākāravada position only from the above quotation, it can be assumed that he rejected the Alīkākāravada position in his work. Thus, I believe that he definitely follows the lineage of Kamalaśīla because he relies on Kamalaśīla’s Madhyamakāloka, and also he is one among the *vijñaptimadhyama‘s philosophers of late eleventh and early twelfth century Indian Buddhism.

Due to insufficient biographical materials, Jñānavajra’s nationality has been a subject of some dispute. It seems strange that Tāranātha would include Jñānavajra’a name in his History of Indian Buddhism because Tāranātha considers Jñānavajra to have been Chinese. This is based on the colophon on Jñānavajra’s commentary. However, based on Jñānavajra’s work, Hadano does not consider him to be Chinese. Interestingly, according to K. Mimaki’s research on Tibetan Grub mtha’ literature, the term, rnam par shes pa dbu ma, which we meet with in Jñānavajra’s work, cannot be found in either the early period or the later period of Tibetan Buddhism. Instead, Tibetan Buddhists prefer Mdo sde pa’i dbu ma and Rnal ‘byor spyod pa’i dbu ma to classify the Svātantrika-Madhyamaka school. Consequently, I assume that, unlike Mdo sde pa’i dbu ma and Rnal ‘byor spyod pa’i dbu ma, the word vijñaptimadhyama was created by later Indian Buddhists. Thus, Jñānavajra was neither Chinese nor Tibetan, but Indian.

Now, I will present three factors that are given as proof that Jñānavajra is not of Chinese origin. First, interspersed throughout the history of Chinese Buddhism, there are fifteen official commentaries on the LAS. Due to the tradition of Chinese Buddhism, most Chinese commentaries written on this sutra were based on the four-volume version of the LAS. Both Hadano and Yamaguchi note that the basic text of Jñānaśrībhadra’s and Jñānavajra’s commentaries on the LAS are the seven-volume-version of the LAS, which was translated into Chinese in 704 A.D. and into Tibetan during the first half of the ninth century. This means that Jñānavajra followed the Indian tradition as did Jñānaśrībhadra.

Secondly, as mentioned before, Jñānavajra is certainly one of the later Yogācāra-Svātantrika-Mādhyamikas of the twelfth century. In later Indian Buddhism, from the eighth to the twelfth centuries, the tradition of the Yogācāra-Svātantrika-Madhyamaka school held a strong position. Ruegg mentions that this school is not known to have been influential in China. This is further clarified by the famous Bsam yas debate in Tibet. This debate, held in the late eighth century, was between the Chan tradition of Chinese Buddhism and the tradition of the Yogācāra-Svātantrika-Madhyamaka school of Indian Buddhism. If Jñānavajra had been Chinese, it would have been impossible for him to have adhered to Kamalaśīla’s Indian Buddhist position.

Finally, in the twelfth century, the Chinese had already created their own style of Chinese Buddhism and subsequently developed methods which were based on practice rather than the scholastic study of Buddhism. According to Takasaki, there are several twelfth-century Chinese Buddhist commentaries on the LAS written by Chan masters. Compared to the earlier works on the LAS from the Tang dynasty, which remain fragmentary, the later Chinese commentaries on the LAS lack sophisticated scholastic qualities. Jñānavajra’s commentary, on the other hand, is a highly academic work. His commentary does not belong to the twelfth-century Chinese Buddhist tradition.

IV. Conclusion

Although biographical data for the two Indian commentators is insufficient, their identities can be determined by investigating not only their connections with other Indian and Tibetan Buddhists during the tenth and eleventh centuries, but also through the contents of their own commentaries on the LAS. As a result of my investigation, certain aspects of their biographical information have been clarified.

In Jñānaśrībhadra’s case, his date of birth has been approximated by comparing details of his life and works with those of other Indian Buddhist logicians. The main Indian Buddhist logicians are the late tenth and mid-eleventh centuries scholars, Ratnākaraśānti, Jñānaśrīmitra, and Ratnakīrti from the Vikramaśīla monastery, and, in addition the late eleventh century Tibetan Buddhist scholars, Rngog Lo tsā ba and Nyi ma grags, who studied in Kashmir. After making these comparisons, I have come to the conclusion that his date of birth was probably between 1020 and 1080, and that his time of life in Kashmir occurred between the former group of Indian Buddhist logicians in the Vikramaśīla monastery and the latter group of Tibetan Buddhists in Kashmir.

Moreover, I believe that he was educated under Sajjana and other Buddhist teachers in Kashmir, and that his basic philosophical viewpoint is based on both the works of Dharmakīrti and Maitreyanātha. And we know that Jñānaśrībhadra’s educational background is similar to Rngog Lo tsā ba’s educational background in Kashimir. Even though Jñānaśrībhadra’s translations of Dharmakīrti’s works seem to have been influenced by the “Old Epistemology” school, originally established by Rma Lo tsā ba, Jñānaśrībhadra’s educational lineage is also connected to the “New Epistemology” school in Tibetan Buddhism, founded by Rngog Lo tsā ba.

On the other hand, due to a lack of biographical detail pertaining to Jñānavajra, I investigated his date of birth in relation to Jñānaśrībhadra’s chronology and the contents of his commentary on the LAS. As a result of my investigation, I have concluded that Jñānavajra’s birth date was later than Jñānaśrībhadra’s. The reason is that, in his commentary on the LAS, there are a few quotations from Jñānaśrībhadra. Consequently, I assume that Jñānavajra’s time of life is in the twelfth century. In addition, Jñānavajra defines himself as a Vijñapti-Mādhyamika, a word established by Ratnākaraśānti in eleventh-century Indian Buddhism. From the early stage of Tibetan Buddhism, Tibetan Buddhists classified the Indian Buddhist school utilizing their own criteria. The word, vijñaptimadhyamaka preferred by Indian Buddhists, however, does not appear in the early period or the late period of Tibetan Grub mtha’ literature. Instead, Mdo sde pa’i dbu ma (Sautrāntika-Madhyamaka) and Rnal ‘byor spyod pa’i dbu ma (Yogācāra-Madhyamaka) are the preferred words. It is understood that the Vijñapti-Mādhyamika was classified by later Indian Buddhists. Therefore, even though his date of birth and life active are uncertain, Jñānavajra was born later than Ratnākaraśānti and Jñānaśrībhadra. On this basis, I conclude that Jñānavajra lived between 1050~1110 and that he was a later Indian Buddhist who belonged to the Yogācāra-Svātantrika-Madhyamaka school.

Subsequently, the doubt concerning Jñānavajra’s possible Chinese origin is resolved from the fact that he belonged to the Vijñapti-Madhyamaka school of the twelfth century. This is because this school was not only an influence on Chinese Buddhism, but also twelfth century Chinese Buddhism lacked high scholarship in its Chinese commentaries on the LAS. I propose, however, that Jñānavajra’s work, Tathāgatahṛdayālaṃkāra (Toh. 4019), is discussed in the doctrine of mind-only by contrasting the positions of both Buddhist and non-Buddhist schools. Jñānavajra also mentions various different branches of his own Svātantrika-Madhyamaka school, which were developed in later Indian Buddhism.

Key word – Jñānaśrībhadra Jñānavajra H. Hadano

Rngog Lo tsā ba Blo lden ses rab Laṅkāvatārasūtra(楞伽經)

Yogācāra-Svātantrika-Madhyamaka school(유가행중관학파)

Yogācāra school(유식학파) Āryalaṅkāvatāravṛtti(聖楞伽釋)


tshad ma rnying ma(古因明)

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Copyright 2004 Kenneth R. Robinson & The Center for Korean Studies. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission of the author.

Was Jesus a Buddhist?

James M. Hanson.
Buddhist-Christian Studies, Annual 2005 v25 p75(15)

Was Jesus a Buddhist? Certainly he was many things–Jew, prophet, healer, moralist, revolutionary, by his own admission the Messiah, and for most Christians the Son of God and redeemer of their sins. And there is convincing evidence that he was also a Buddhist. The evidence follows two independent lines–the first is historical, and the second is textual. Historical evidence indicates that Jesus was well acquainted with Buddhism. If Jesus did not go to India, then at least India went to Judea and Jesus. The real historical question is not if he studied Buddhism, but where and how much he studied Buddhism, especially during his so-called "lost years."

Historical accounts aside, many textual analyses indicate striking similarities between what was said by Jesus and by Buddha and between the prophetic legend of Jesus and ancient Buddhist texts. The conclusion is that, although not identifying himself as a Buddhist for good reasons, Jesus spoke like a Buddhist. The similarities are so striking that, even if no historical evidence existed, we can suspect that Jesus studied Buddhist teachings and that the prophecy and legend of Jesus was derived from Buddhist stories.


Historical evidence indicates that Jesus knew about Buddhism, simply because both he and it were in Judea during the same time. Other evidence, while perhaps apocryphal, indicates that he spent most of his so-called lost years outside Judea, possibly in Kashmir to study Buddhism exclusively.

I owe thanks to the barbed but benign comments of my friend, Dale Bengtson.

Regarding Buddhism in Judea, Jesus did not live in a pastoral, ethnically isolated place and time. On the contrary, non-Jewish political and cultural influences permeated Judea, which was an important shipping center for trade between India and the West and the military gateway to invade Egypt via land. Both land and sea trade routes had run through Jerusalem for centuries. Overland routes extending to Persia and western India were especially active after Alexander’s invasion of western India 360 years earlier; most of the routes, whether connecting to wealthy cities in Egypt or in Greece and Rome, came through Jerusalem, where goods for Greece and Rome were shipped via the Mediterranean Sea. Sea routes from Bombay and the mouth of the Indus River went through the Persian and Red Gulfs, the distance between the mouths of the Indus and Tigris and Euphrates rivers being only about three hundred miles; much of the trade came up the Gulf of Aquaba and overland up to Jerusalem (actually nearby Jappa) as the shipping point to the Mediterranean.

During Jesus’ time, Judea was a Roman dominion and most of the trade was Roman. Being the wealthiest empire of the time, Rome sent tons of gold-minted sesterces eastward for goods from India and other places. Most of this trade came over the Mediterranean and through Judea, making Jerusalem a cosmopolitan shipping center. Because of trade alone, Zoroastrianism and Buddhism were well known to the people in Judea. News from other lands was naturally of great interest. Most traders provided detailed accounts of the events of cities and states along their routes, often in the form of eloquent verse. Easterners in Judea were as anxious to hear news as were Jews in Persia or western India.
In addition to trade, Zoroastrians and Buddhists settled in northern Arabia, including Judea, which was only two hundred miles from Mesopotamia. The story of Jesus’ birth attracting the three Magi priests, if true, demonstrated close ties with Zoroastrians. Settlements occurred especially during Alexander’s invasion of the East after 330 BCE. This included Jews who welcomed Alexander’s overthrow of Egyptian rule and who joined Alexander’s army. Many settled along the invasion route through Persia and what is now Afghanistan and Kashmir/Punjab, a practice encouraged by Alexander to maintain his empire. About 360 years later, Jesus dispatched Thomas, perhaps his closest and most loyal apostle, to practice Christianity in India. The descendants of these Jews continue today to reside in Kashmir or Punjab.

Were Buddhists really in Judea, as Jews were in India? In Jesus’ time Buddhism was already five hundred years old and had spread from India, east to southeast Asia, north to central Asia, and west to the Middle East. The overland route westward was through what is now Afghanistan, northern Persia, and the area of Baghdad, then forked east to Palestine and Egypt or the northeast and lesser-traveled route through Syria, Turkey, and Greece. After Alexander’s eastern conquests, the great India ruler Ashoka, according to Will Durant’s account, "sent Buddhist missionaries to all parts of India and Ceylon, even to Syria, Egypt and Greece, where, perhaps, they helped prepare for the ethics of Christ." (1) Furthermore, Max Muller stated that missionaries also were sent more than thirty years prior to Ashoka’s reign: "That remarkable missionary movement, beginning in 300 BCE, sent forth a succession of devoted men who spent their lives in spreading the faith of the Buddha over all parts of Asia." (2) Philo noted the presence of Buddhists in Alexandria, Egypt. (3)

The link between Buddhism and Jesus appears to be primarily the Essenes, perhaps also the Mandeans, Mithraites, and probably other sects generally known as Gnostics. While the members of these splinter groups were Jews, they rejected the worldly, rationalist, optimistic faith of Jewish mainline thinking in the Torah or Old Testament. Their beliefs were ascetic, millenarian, otherworldly, and about a god beyond reason and ordinary intelligence, as expressed by John the Baptist and partly by his protege, Jesus. Malamed discusses these differences and concludes, "Numerous scholars long ago discovered Buddhistic elements in the Gospel of John and also recognized the Buddhistic background of Essenism, by which Jesus was greatly influenced. The conclusion is inescapable that Palestine, together with many other parts of Asia Minor, was inundated with Buddhistic propaganda for two centuries before Christ." (4) A similar historical account of that time is provided by Rosser: "Records from Alexander indicate a steady stream of Buddhist monks and philosophers who, living in that area, which was at the crossroads of commerce and ideas, influenced the philosophical currents of the time. There are strong similarities between Buddhist monastic teachings and Jewish ascetic sects, such as the Essenes, that were part of the spiritual environment of Palestine at the time of Christ’s birth." (5)

Derrida provides a contemporary account of the radical break between Jesus and Jewish tradition, echoing the ancient themes stressed by the Gnostics in the apocrypha. First, Jesus bypassed traditional temple and doctrine by referring to the spirit as existing within the soul or conscience of the individual. Second, Jesus stressed virtue over justice and warned explicitly against the Old Testament admonishment of an eye for an eye and tooth for tooth (Matthew 5:38-39) and against striking back at one’s enemies (Matthew 5:43-44). Third, Jesus stated that the giving of alms and performing other good deeds was to be done privately if not secretly to obtain the favor of God (Matthew 6:1-4). (6)
Historians know little about the origins of the Essenes. Philo, Pliny, and Josephus mentioned them to have existed about 150 years before Jesus, which is shortly after the time Ashoka’s Buddhist emissaries arrived from India. The name "Essene" appears to have Indic origins. Serrano explains, "The word ‘Essene’ could have evolved from the foreign pronunciation of the Indian word ‘Eeshani.’ Eeshan is Shiva (the Hindu God) and Eeshani is one who adores Eeshan or Shiva." (7)

Mithraism is undoubtedly Indian in origin, Mithras being a deity in several Hindu Vedas. Mithras grew in importance in Persia, being associated with the Zoroastrian god Ahura Mazda, who was well known in Judea. Mithraism became the dominant religion of the Roman Empire during the second and third centuries and influenced many of the rewritings of Christian doctrines of the time.

Given all of these East-West trade and settlement patterns, Jesus certainly was exposed to Buddhism. Jesus would have known about Zoroastrianism and Buddhism as a teenager. The Bible refers to Jesus and his family visiting Jerusalem during annual Passover celebrations. Luke (2:47) has the twelve-year-old Jesus in a Jerusalem temple talking to a group of doctors: "All those who heard him were in amazement." Clearly, the young Jesus was engaged in the ideas and issues of his day, which would have included Buddhism.

The extent of Jesus’ exposure to Buddhism depends on just where he was during his lost years. If Jesus lived his life only in Judea, then his exposure was minimal. If he traveled outside Judea, especially to Mesopotamia, then his exposure to Buddhist-influenced groups was increased.
The Bible makes no mention of where the young Jesus lived. In Matthew (2:23) and Mark (1:23), Jesus is called a "Nazarene" and in other documents a "Nazoraean." But the town of Nazarene was not mentioned in the Bible-related texts until some four hundred years CE. Nazarene probably refers to another Jewish sect, also known as the "Nazirites," involving John the Baptist and Jesus’ brother James. In Acts 24:5, Paul is referred to as "the leader of the sect of Nazarenes." (8)

Nonbiblical historical accounts indicate that Jesus traveled outside Judea. Old Muslim records refer to Jesus as the "traveling prophet" and as the "chief of travelers." Another states, "Jesus was named the ‘Messiah,’ because he wandered about, and because he did not stay in one place." (9) The more Jesus traveled about, the more he would have encountered Buddhist ideas.

The Bible provides no account of Jesus’ lost years between ages thirteen and twenty-nine. If Jesus was lost, where was he? Luke 2:40 only generalizes: "And the child grew and waxed strong, filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him." In the last recorded account of Jesus as a twelve-year-old, Luke 2:51 says that Jesus left Jerusalem with his parents "and lived there in subjection to them … and so Jesus advanced in wisdom with the years." But this does not square with Luke’s own account of the twelve-year-old Jesus engaging the doctors of Jerusalem. Indeed, this account introduces contrary dimension, which is that even then Jesus had his calling clearly in mind regardless of his parents’ concerns. Luke 2:49 quotes Jesus’ curt reply to his mother, who was worried about his whereabouts for three days: "Could you not tell that I must be in a place [the temple] which belongs to my father?" This cannot be the same youth who supposedly lived "in subjection" to his parents and whiled his time away as a carpenter.

Jesus certainly studied and preached during his lost years. There is no reason for Jesus to have stopped preaching, especially when as a twelve-year-old he told his mother of his commitment. This almost certainly means that he traveled and evangelized elsewhere, as nonbiblical evidence indicates. Being one of the greatest moral prophets to ever bless humankind, he would not have spent his formative years contented to be a carpenter in his boyhood community, which would have nullified everything about his prophecy as the Messiah, his anointed birth, and his prodigious childhood. For Jesus, this had to be a period of intensive study and contemplation that was guided by some unusual teachers, and probably of evangelizing as well.

On the point of Jesus being away from Judea during his lost years, there is one suggestive incident in the Bible. When Jesus suddenly emerged from his lost years for his baptism as a twenty-nine-year-old by John the Baptist, the people were amazed to hear him speak. According to Mark 6:2-3 they asked, "How did he come by all this? What is the meaning of this wisdom that has been given him, and of all these wonderful works that are done by his hands? Is this the carpenter, the son of Mary?" This clearly indicates that they had never heard Jesus speak in this manner before. The last question could be interpreted to mean that they did not know how a mere carpenter could speak this way, which suggests he undertook intensive study, and/or that they simply did not recognize him because of a long absence.


Most accounts of Jesus in India derive from a book titled The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ, written by Nicholas Notovitch, a Russian doctor who claimed to visit the monastery of Himmis near Leh, Ladakh (Kashmir) in 1888. (10) Notovitch said that, in visiting the monastery, he reviewed written verses that described the presence there of Jesus known as "Issa." Other passages elaborate on Jesus’ travels in India, his teachings, his acceptance of the Shudras and other untouchables, and his conflicts with the Brahmans and the Zoroastrian priests of Persia. Jesus supposedly arrived in India at the age of fourteen and returned to Judea at the age of twenty-nine. (11)

When appearing in 1894, Notovitch’s account became immediately and widely controversial. Christian churches denounced it as a hoax. The British Church Mission in India employed a professor to find and bury the documents described by Notovitch. The Anglican Church commissioned the services of F. Max Muller, the great German scholar who taught at Oxford. Muller dismissed it, largely by challenging the two main sources, namely a book of fourteen chapters and another document titled Nath Namavali preserved by the Saddhus of Yoga Nath. Muller also cited an interview of the Himmis monastery’s abbot who insisted that no documents about Jesus existed and that Notovitch never visited there. (12)

By the mid-nineteenth century, as the first translations of the Indian Vedas became published, Europeans took a great interest in the possible historic connections between Indic and European peoples, which was indicated by the movement of socalled Aryan populations beginning about 2000 bc and their occupation of northern India in 1500 BCE. Most European languages originated at least partly from Sanskrit, which the Aryans probably already found in India (due to the earlier Harappa or Saraswati civilization) and then developed and disseminated the language. A particular question was whether the Aryan populations included Semitic groups who later settled Judea and Egypt as the tribes of Israel.

Twenty-five years prior to Notovitch’s expedition Muller had written, "Between the language of the Buddha and his disciples, and the language of Christ and his apostles, there are strange coincidences. Even some Buddhist legends and parables sound as if taken from the New Testament, though we know that many of them existed before the beginning of the Christian era." (13) Muller then was joined by other scholars. De Bunsen stated: "The most ancient of the Buddhistic records known to us contain statements about the life and the doctrines of Gautama Buddha which correspond in a remarkable manner, and impossibly by mere chance, with the traditions recorded in the Gospels about the life and doctrines of Jesus Christ." (14) Doane wrote, "The history of Jesus of Nazareth, as related in the books of the New Testament, is simply a copy of that of Buddha, with a mixture of mythology borrowed from other nations." (15)

Was Notovitch a fraud who took advantage of the current interest? Certainly he had a following of many frauds or fools. One was the Muslim Ahmadiyya movement founded by Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who claimed that Jesus also escaped death on the cross and returned to India. Another was Levi Dowling, writer of The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ, first published in 1911 and still read today by New Age Aquarians. Dowling derived his account of Jesus in India obviously from Notovitch, although he claimed to have derived his knowledge from the so-called "Akashic Records," which are the unwritten thoughts existing within the universe that can be accessed by psychics such as himself. (16)

Notovitch’s most credible supporter probably is Fida Hassnain, a retired Buddhist scholar from University of Srinagar, director of state archeology, and past head of the Kashmir Library and Archives. In a book written with Dahan Levi titled The Fifth Gospel, Hassnain restates most of the information provided by Notovitch: Jesus left Judea when he was thirteen. Traveling most of the way with merchants, he made his way via Damascus, Babylon, and Kharax to Persia and eventually to Kashmir to study and lecture. Jesus remained in India for about sixteen years; he studied Buddhism, the Vedas, and other Indic writing mostly in Kashmir, but he also lectured and traveled throughout India. At the age of twenty-nine he left India and eventually reappeared in Judea to begin his ministry. His time in Kashmir coincides exactly with his "lost years" in the gospels.

Hassnain cites other Asian sources that mention Jesus being in India. These include the following.
1. A Chinese text preserved in Tibetan called the "Glass Mirror" mentions Yesu, who was "a teacher and founder of the religion who was born miraculously, proclaimed himself the Savior of the World," and who followed Buddhist principles.
2. Twenty-one Muslim historical chronicles in Arabic refer to Issa (known as Yuz Asaph or various derivatives of this name).
3. The Persian Kamal u-Din by Said-us-Saddiq mentions Jesus in the late ninth century.
4. The Kashmiri Hindu text "Bhavishya Maha Purana" speaks about king Shalivahana (circa ad 80) meeting a foreigner calling himself Ishvara Putaram (Son of God). (17)

Buddhist records usually refer to Jesus as Issa-Masih, and Muslims use the name Yusu-Masih or some variant. One record of Jesus’ sermons in Kashmir is in Bhavishya- maha-purana, written by Sutta in 115 CE. (18) Another record of Jesus’ sermons in Kashmir was Tarikh-I-Kashmir, written later by the Muslim Mulla Nadri, who identified Jesus as Yuz-Asaph. (19) A Muslim record was Al-Shaikh Al-Said-us-Sadiq; Ikmal-ud-Din. (20) Another was the history of Kashmir written by Kalhana circa 1148 CE, which referred to Jesus as Isana, "the great guru" who impressed the king, Samdhi-mati. (21) A Persian account of Jesus in India is written around 900 CE by Al Shaikh Said-us-Sidiz and titled Mamal-Ud-Din. (22) Finally, the Apocalypse of Peter refers to Jesus sitting at one of the ten pillars erected in India by Ashoka: "As the Savior was sitting in the temple in the three hundredth (year) of the covenant and the agreement of the tenth pillar." (23) A passage in Song of the Yogi sung by Natha Yogas reads: "My friend Ishai has gone towards Arabia." A verse in the Puranas reads: "Having found the sacred image of Eeshai [God] in my heart, my name will be established as on the earth as Eesah Mashi [the Messiah]." (24)

Beside Hassnain, another respected supporter of Notovitch’s find is Nicholas Roerich, a world-renowned painter and choreographer and founder of the Roerich Pact, an international agreement that started in 1935 and continues today that preserves historical art. In his autobiographical account of his time in India during 1923-1928, Roerich cites numerous conversations about the legend of Issa with people in Kashmir and Tibet who knew nothing of Notovitch’s claims. (25) He states, "Still many other legends and manuscripts related of Issa in Asia," but he cites no particular manuscripts.

After accounts by Roerich, another persuasive rebuttal was written by Edgar J. Goodspeed. (26) One problem is that several of the sources that put Jesus in Kashmir during his lost years also put him there after his attempted crucifixion. The best known is the so-called Gospel of Thomas, which was written by Leucius at the beginning of the second century supposedly based on letters written by the apostle Thomas, who was a missionary in Taxila in the Punjab, letters that state that Jesus was there at the age of forty-nine. This and similar accounts are presented in books by Hassnain and Levi, Ahmad, and Faber. (27) Jesus was thought to have escaped death on the cross, recuperated, and fled to Kashmir to continue his practice. To this day, pilgrims and tourists alike go to the Rozaball section of Srinagar, India to visit the tomb that claims to contain the remains of Yousa-Asaf, the Muslim name for Jesus Christ. (28)

This post-crucifixion argument differs from the "lost years" argument. It has Jesus surviving a Roman persecution, leaving India for no obvious reason, living for more than one hundred years, and so on, and it contradicts numerous sources and testimonies that Jesus did die on the cross. The argument that Jesus went to India as a young man encounters none of these difficulties and contradicts nothing except vague references, and it in fact explains the otherwise unexplained biblical silence about Jesus’ lost years. The critics, of course, are happy to merge the two arguments and use the latter to discredit the former argument.

However, the main problem with Jesus being in India is that its chief source, Notovitch, probably was a fraud. As already stated, the abbot of the Himmis monastery, when later interviewed by J. Archibald Douglas, denied that Notovitch ever visited the monastery. Pali was never used in that area, although Notovitch says this was the language translated for him into French. Himmis had been visited previously by other Westerners who never heard mention of Issa. Jesus’ presence in India is not mentioned in any of the established sutras. (29) And most importantly, the sources cited by Hassnain and other supporters are all dated well after Jesus’ life. Almost certainly, Jesus traveled beyond Judea, but probably not to Kashmir.


Setting aside the historical evidence, the textual evidence is convincing by itself alone. Most of what Jesus said, which, if even confined to the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, was said five hundred years earlier by Buddha. Much of what Jesus did was done five hundred years earlier by Buddha. So, schooled as a Buddhist, Jesus spoke and acted like a Buddhist. Jesus was the most important source for the biblical accounts of his life, which he gave to Peter and which Peter gave to Matthew and Luke.

Indeed, but for inevitable differences in translations, what Jesus said may have been identical with what he read and heard of Buddha and Veda texts. The languages of Pali (which Buddha spoke) or Sanskrit (found in most Buddhist documents) had to be translated first into Greek or Coptic, then into Jesus’ native Hebrew or Aramaic. More translation is involved with the writing and rewriting of texts after Jesus, including the final English translation in the King James version of the Bible. Considering these discrepancies in translation, many of Jesus’ statements could have been identical with their Buddhist sources.
The accounts commonly known about both Jesus and Buddha are numerous, as indicated below.

* Born as an incarnate god.
* Born from a virgin mother.
* Birth claimed as a divine event and prophesied as the same.
* Birth attended by singing angels.
* Birth attended by wise men bearing gifts.
* Prodigious childhood.
* As a child astounded teachers with knowledge.
* Fasted in the wilderness for forty days.
* Tempted while alone by the devil.
* Resisted the devil successfully.
* After the devil left, supernatural events occurred.
* Were vegetarians (fish excepted).
* Began ministry at thirty years of age.
* Attract large following mostly from lower classes.
* Attracted disciples who traveled with him.
* Attracted one disciple who was treacherous.
* Changed disciples’ names.
* Encouraged celibacy for their disciples.
* Consecrated in a holy river.
* Itinerant ministry instead of at a fixed place.
* Performed miracles such as curing blindness.
* Renounced worldly riches and required the same of their disciples.
* Ministered to outcasts.
* Advocated universal love and peace.
* Taught mostly through use of parables.
* Triumphal entries (in Jerusalem and Rajagripa).
* Gave major sermon from a mound.
* Disregarded by the dominant religious elite (Pharisees and Brahmans).
* Just before death dispatched disciples to preach in other areas.
* Death accompanied by supernatural event.

Both Jesus and Buddha issued moral commandments that prohibited killing, stealing, adultery, false witness, and coveting. Both emphasized the same moral themes: advocate peace, not war; avoid the corruption of wealth; help the poor; abolish slavery and caste systems; abandon self and selfishness; and love your neighbor, even your enemy. Many statements by Jesus resembled those by Buddha, as presented below.

JESUS: "A foolish man, which built his house on sand."
BUDDHA: "Perishable is a city built on sand." (30)
JESUS: "Therefore confess your sins one to another, and pray one for another, that you may be healed."
BUDDHA: "Confess before the world the sins you have committed." (31)
JESUS: "In him we have redemption through his blood, the foregiveness of sins."
BUDDHA: "Let all sins that were committed in this world fall on me, that the world may be delivered." (32)
JESUS: "Do to others as you would have them do to you."
BUDDHA: "Consider others as yourself." (33)
JESUS: "If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also."
BUDDHA: "If anyone should give you a blow with his hand, with a stick, or with a knife, you should abandon all desires and utter no evil words." (34)
JESUS: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you."
BUDDHA: "Hatreds do not cease in this world by hating, but by love: this is an eternal truth. Overcome anger by love, overcome evil by good." (35)
JESUS: "This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."
BUDDHA: "Let your thoughts of boundless love pervade the whole world." (36)
JESUS: "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to cast a stone at her."
BUDDHA: "Do not look at the faults of others or what others have done or not done; observe what you yourself have done and have not done." (37)
JESUS: "You father in heaven makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous."
BUDDHA: "The light of the sun and the moon illuminates the whole world, both him who does well and him who does ill, both him who stands high and him who stands low." (38)
JESUS: "If you wish to be perfect, go sell your possessions, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven."
BUDDHA: "The avaricious do not go to heaven, the foolish do not extol charity. The wise one, however, rejoicing in charity, becomes thereby happy in the beyond." (39)

The Hebrew prophecy of the Messiah reflects ancient Indian legends. Jesus’ second coming to abolish evil corresponds with the legend of Krishna, who will return and save the world from evil and the destructive acts of Shiva. According to Serrano, "Three hundred years before the birth of Christ the story of Krishna had already been compiled in India, and had begun to influence the Essenes in the Middle East." (40) He outlines the parallel Krishna/Messiah legends: "Christ may have evolved from Krishna, the Hindu God-Avatar of Vishnu. Like Krishna, Christ was born of a virgin, and the idea of Mary’s virginity may have been adopted from the Oriental legend. Both Krishna and Christ were born under the tyrants Herod and Kansa who ordered the killing of all the children. Other similarities include each being born at midnight and common character traits. And when they died the heavens were full of signs of their passing." (41)

As Muller pointed out, the Hebrew name of "Messiah" appears to be etymologically derived from the Sanskrit word of "Maitreya," in having similar sounds and the same meaning of an anointed figure that is prophesied to appear on earth to save his people. (42) Just as Jews recognized the coming of a Messiah in Old Testament writings, Buddhists read the reappearance of Buddha as the Maitreya in many Sanskrit texts, often referred to him as the prophesied Bagwa Maitreva (white traveler). Both recognized Jesus to be the fulfillment of the Messiah/Maitreya prophecy. There is also the likely derivation of the Old Testament Hebrew name for Jesus as "Ruhullah" from the Buddhist name of "Rhaula" for a disciple of Buddha. (43) In addition, Ahmad notes that Jesus and Buddha were known through virtually identical titles:

Jesus calls himself the Light of his teachings, so Gautama has been named the Buddha, which in Sanskrit means Light. If Jesus had been    called the Master in the Gospels, so the Buddha has been called Sasta or the Master; if Jesus has been called Blessed in the Gospels, so the Buddha has been named Sugt, i.e., the Blessed. If Jesus had been called Prince, so has the Buddha been called Prince. Jesus has also been described by the Gospels as one who fulfills the object of his coming, so has the Buddha been called in Buddhistic scriptures Siddhartha, i.e., one who fulfills the object of his coming. Jesus also has been called by the Gospels the Refuge of the Tired, so has the Buddha in Buddhistic scriptures been called Asarn Sarn, i.e., the refuge of the refugeless. Jesus has also been called the Gospel’s King, though the interpreted it as King of the Kingdom of Heaven, so also Buddha has been called the King. (44)

Finally, most of rituals and monastic practices are the same, as observed of Lamaism (old term for Buddhism in northern India) by Christian missionaries as early as 1660: "Lamaism, with its shaven priests, its fells and rosaries, its images and holy water, its popes and bishops, its abbots and monks of many grades, its processions and feast days, its confessional and purgatory, and its worship of the double virgin, so strongly resembles Romanism that the first Catholic missionaries thought it must be an imitation by the devil of the religion of Christ." (45)
Clearly derived from the earlier Buddhist story was the story of the Seven Seals in Revelations, which was supposedly written by John the apostle shortly after Jesus’ death but perhaps by someone else within seventy years of Jesus’ death. The detail between the two stories is virtually identical. St. John weeps because he sees no one worthy to open the book and to break its seven seals, which can be done only by the Lamb slaughtered in sacrifice. In the Buddhist story The Perfection of Wisdom, a book also was sealed with seven seals and induced the ever-weeping Bodhisattva to sacrifice himself to become worthy. This parallel is remarkable not only for the similarities of the religious logic, but also for the fact that both books have seven seals. (46)


The most accepted explanation for the textual similarities is the universalist, ecumenical, or humanist argument that the spiritual condition of humankind is basically the same. To wit, whether we follow Jesus, Buddha, Lao Tzu, or Zarathustra, we all have the same three-pound brain, body and senses, the same emotions and needs and the same basic experiences of suffering, caring for others, fearing death, and looking to a higher being. The psychoreligious sameness is manifest in Sigmund Freud’s discontents of civilizations, Carl Jung’s archetypes, Joseph Campbell’s hero legend, and William James’s varieties of religious experience, to name but a few of many such sources.

Therefore, moralists of the standing of Jesus and Buddha are simply expressing the same human conditions and eternal truths. Borg acknowledges: "The correlations of these ancient texts are almost eerie…. Jesus’ and Buddha’s later teachings are as alike as their early biographies. Whether speaking of love, material wealth, temptation or salvation, they were two masters with one message." (47) Borg dismisses cultural borrowing or Jesus learning from Buddha: "The similarities are not of the kind to suggest cultural borrowing. They are not at the level of specific images or language. They are structural." (48) Christians and Buddhists have been anxious to find common ground. From the Christian side, Thomas Merton is most notable, with works such as Mystics and Zen Masters. The Buddhist side has been led by the Dalai Lama, The Good Heart: A Buddhist Perspective on the Teachings of Jesus, and Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ.

There are two alternative treatments for these extraordinary textual parallels. The first is to deny that the parallelisms exist and/or claim they are coincidental. This is hard to maintain against the existence of so many parallel quotations and circumstances. The second explanation is the universalist argument that the ethics and laws of the human situation are the same; thus Jesus knew nothing of Buddhism but, like Buddha, understood the same universal truths and morals that are evident to all enlightened human beings. This can be secular or sacred. The secular version holds that human biological survival and/or psychological well-being depends on certain obvious laws and ethics regarding human rights and obligations. The sacred version is that both Buddha and Jesus were hearing the same God, either as sons of God or as unusually enlightened "students" of God.

Drawing on Jung’s cultural archetypes, Serrano states, "All of these stories seem part of a universal myth, and the legends of Osiris and Akhenaton, and those of the Christian Father and Son, and of Krishna and Adonis, have much in common…. The myth is always the same and revolves timelessly down through the ages." (49)

The problem with the universalist argument is that ethics and laws vary widely among cultures, at different times within given cultures, and by different spokespersons or subcultures within given cultures. Ethics and laws differ even within given Christian churches or denominations. Other than the belief that Jesus was the son of God, beliefs vary widely even within Christian churches and denominations, arguably more widely than between certain Christian denominations and Buddhism.

The parallelisms between the teachings of Jesus and Buddha are unique, not universalist. There are no such parallelisms between what Jesus taught and what was taught by Zoroaster, Tao, Confucius, or Plato and the ancient Greek philosophers.


The biblical silence about Jesus’ lost years is one of the strangest hiatuses in history. It is a total silence about one of the greatest moralists in human history, covering seventeen years of Jesus’ life between the ages of twelve and twenty-nine. Indeed, except for his birth and a singular account of Jesus as a twelve-year old in Jerusalem, there is silence about all but the last three years of his life. Why? Why did not Jesus’ twelve disciples and his thousands of followers not comment on his life for twenty-nine of his thirty-two years?

Surely they did comment. Hundreds, even thousands, of accounts were written in the form of prayers, sermons, letters, or what became disparaged as the "apocrypha." By the second century CE, the church of Christ was destroying every piece of evidence of the life of Christ that did not support its doctrines, and the church continued its purging with more or less fervor throughout the succeeding centuries. The activity continued at the turn of the twentieth century when the very question of Jesus’ travels as a young man was raised first by Notovitch. Different church authorities destroyed documents at the Himmis Monastery and later documents at the Tun-huang caves in central Asia. (50)
At stake throughout the centuries was the critical church doctrine that Christ was a Jew who started his own religion as the Son of God. Any evidence not supporting this view was condemned as "apocrypha" and destroyed or rewritten. Even the four gospels were rewritten to provide the impression that Jesus never left Judea. An example is Luke’s reference to Jesus during the lost years. The original edition probably read: "And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the desert, till the day of his showing in Judea." It now reads: "And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him."

The church’s later concerns about Jesus’ Jewishness and holiness would have prevailed during his life and ministry. Jesus’ identity as a Jew, the Messiah, and Son of God was critical to his credibility as a leader and to the survival of his religious/political movement. The Jews who followed him exposed their lives and fortunes to the occupying Roman authorities that persecuted thousands and destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70. To be followed, Jesus had to be seen as the Jewish Messiah prophesied in Jewish folklore, as Jesus himself emphasized repeatedly, not as some kind of Buddhist Maitreya. His travel and exposure to Buddhist ideas could not be acknowledged, nor could the records of Buddhist influence upon the Essenes and other sects in Judea before and during Jesus’ time. Hence the inexplicable lost years.


Was Jesus really a Buddhist? The answer is not yes or no, but rather to what extent Jesus was or was not a Buddhist. The historic evidence shows that Buddhism had spread throughout the area, from Mesopotamia to Egypt, which included Jerusalem as a trading center between East and West. Contrary to Rudyard Kipling’s colonialist belief that never the twain shall meet, East and West have shared the same history at least since Aryan populations began settling west and central Asia four thousand years ago, which are the ancestral stock shared by Jews and Hindus alike. East /West wars have been documented since at least the TrojanWar 3,200 years ago. Both Alexander and Ashoka brought East and West together in different ways, and the Silk Road was well established during the beginning of China’s Han dynasty at least a century before Christ.

The historic evidence of Jesus being in India is doubtful–Notovitch probably was a fraud. But no answers are found to the question of where Jesus was during his lost years. Certainly, he was no hometown carpenter, and he probably traveled extensively throughout Asia Minor, which increased his exposure to Buddhism. His travel is indicated by the many records found in India and even China and the keen interest demonstrated by Buddhists and other Easterners.

The textual evidence shows that Buddhism not only had spread West through Silk Road travelers and contacts between East and West from the conquests of Alexander, but also had been deliberately propagated through emissaries sent from India during the third century BC. This influence is revealed both by the actions and statements of Jesus and by the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah, a term probably derived from Sanskrit.

The identities and parallels between the legends of Buddha and Jesus and between their deeds and statements require explanation. They are too close and too specific to be explained by a presumed set of universalist truths and ethics. If these truths and ethics are so universal and evident, then why is human history dominated by violence and ignorance? Why are the same identities not evident between Jesus and Mohammad, Jesus and Zarathustra, or Jesus and Lao Tzu?

When nineteenth-century missionaries translated and read ancient Sanskrit and Pali documents in India, they began to call Buddhism the Christianity of the East. But Buddhism came first, five hundred years before Christ. The more accurate dubbing is to call Christianity the Buddhism of the West.

Deardorff, James. "A New Ecumenicalism Based upon Reexamination of the ‘Lost Years’ Evidence." 1994. http://www.proaxis.com/~deardorj/ecumensm.htm .
Donehoo, James De Quincey. The Apocryphal and Legendary Life of Christ. New York: Hodder and Stoughton, 1903.
Gale, Nur Tichard. "Isa ( Jesus) and Kashmir." N.d. http://www.mm2000.nu/sphinxjj.html ;.
Price, Robert M. "Jesus in Tibet: A Modern Myth." 2001. http://www.westarinstitute.org/Periodicals/4R_Articles/Tibet/tibet.html ;.
Prophet, Mark, and Elizabeth Clare. Climb the Highest Mountain: The Everlasting Gospel. Los Angeles: Summit University Press, 1980.
The Reluctant Messenger. "The Lost Years of Jesus: The Life of Saint Issa." N.d. <http:// reluctant-messenger.com/issa.htm>, http://www.tsl.org/masters/jesus/front.htm;.
Sanderson, Jim. "Was Jesus a Buddhist?" 1998. http://jimvb.home.mindspring.com/ser19980ct11.htm ;.
Selarion, Robertina. "Appolinas of Tyana: The Monkey of Christ." 1999. <http://www.apollonius.net/issa.html ;.
Wright, William, ed. and trans. Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles. Amsterdam: Philo Press, 1968.
James M. Hanson
Southern Illinois University-Carbondale

(1.) Will Durant, The Story of Civilization: Our Oriental Heritage, Part One (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1935), vol. 1, p. 449.
(2.) Muller quoted in John R. Remsburg, The Christ: A Critical Review and Analysis of the Evidences of His Existence (New York: Truth Seeker Company, 1909), p. 510.
(3.) S. M. Melamed, Spinoza and Buddha:Visions of a Dead God (University of Chicago Press, 1933), pp. 312-313.
(4.) Ibid, p. 324.
(5.) Yvette Rosser, "Buddhism in Christianity," International Internet Association, May 23, 1995, http://www.indunet.org/alt_hindu/1995_May_2/msg00015.html ;.
(6.) Jacques Derrida, The Gift of Death, trans. David Wills (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), pp. 100-109.
(7.) Migel Serrano, The Serpent of Paradise: The Story of an Indian Pilgrimage (London: Rider and Company, 1963), p. 144.
(8.) John Davidson, The Gospel of Jesus: In Search of His Original Teachings (Rockport MA: Element Books, 1995), pp. 134-135.
(9.) Ancient Moslem records cited in Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Jesus in India: Being an Account of Jesus’ Escape from Death on the Cross and His Journey to India (London: London Mosque, 1978 [1899]), p. 67.
(10.) Nicolas Notovitch, The Unknown Life of Jesus Christ, ed. and trans.Virchand R.Gandhi and G. L. Christie (Chicago: Indo-American Book Company, 1907).
(11.) Ibid., p. 78.
(12.) Fida Hassnain and Dahan Levi, The Fifth Gospel (Srinagar, Kashmir: Dastfir Publications, 1988), p. 265.
(13.) Friederich Max Muller, Introduction to the Science of Religion (New York: Arno Press, 1978 [1873]), p. 243.
(14.) De Bunsen, The Angel Messiah of Buddhists, Essenes and Christians (London: 1880), p. 50.
(15.) Thomas William Doane, Bible Myths and Their Parallels in Other Religions (New York: New Hyde Park, 1971 [1882]), p. 286.
(16.) Levi H. Dowling, The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ (Los Angeles: LeoW. Dowling, 1952 [1911]).
(17.) Hassnain and Levi, The Fifth Gospel.
(18.) Sutta quoted in ibid., pp. 203-205.
(19.) Ibid., pp. 206-208.
(20.) Ibid., pp. 208-209.
(21.) Ibid., pp. 261-262.
(22.) Ibid., p. 268.
(23.) The Order of Nazorean Essenes, "The Buddhist Connection: Ancient Nazoreans and Buddhism," http://essenes.crosswinds.net/asoka.html ;.
(24.) Serrano, The Serpent of Paradise, p. 144.
(25.) Nicholas Roerich, Altai-Himalaya: A Travel Diary (New York: Frederick A. Stokes Company, 1929).
(26.) Edgar J. Goodspeed, Famous "Biblical" Hoaxes (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1956).
(27.) Ibid. Also see Ahmad, Jesus in India, and Andreas Faber Kaiser, Jesus Died in Kashmir: Jesus, Moses, and the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel (London: Gordon and Cremonesi, 1977).
(28.) Ibid., pp. 221-224.
(29.) Davidson, The Gospel of Jesus, pp. 137-138.
(30.) John E. Remsburg, The Christ: A Critical Review and Analysis on the Evidences of His Existence (New York: Truth Seeker Company, 1909), p. 508.
(31.) Christian Discussion Forum. "Buddha vs. Jesus." 2000, p. 2, http://www.geocities.com/Tokyo/Courtyard/1652/BuddhaChrist.html ;.
(32.) Ibid., pp. 5-6.
(33.) Marcus Borg, ed. Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings (Berkeley, CA: Ulysses Press, 1997), pp. 14-15.
(34.) Ibid., pp. 16-17.
(35.) Ibid., pp. 18-19.
(36.) Ibid., pp. 24-25.
(37.) Ibid., pp. 38-39.
(38.) Ibid., pp. 44-45.
(39.) Ibid., pp. 62-63.
(40.) Serrano, The Serpent of Paradise, p. 100.
(41.) Ibid.
(42.) Muller cited in Ahmad, Jesus in India, p. 74.
(43.) Ibid., p. 80.
(44.) Ibid., p. 68.
(45.) An early edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica quoted in Remsburg, The Christ, pp. 509-510.
(46.) Tin Htut, "Is Jesus a Buddhist?" n.d., p. 1. <http://web.ukonline.co.uk/buddhism/jesus.htm ;.
(47.) Borg, Jesus and Buddha, p. 4.
(48.) Ibid., p. xiii.
(49.) Serrano, The Serpent of Paradise, pp. 100-101.
(50.) Ibid., p. 266.


Rita M. Gross – This Buddhist’s View of Jesus – Buddhist-Christian Studies

Jesus Christ through Buddhist Eyes
This Buddhist’s View of Jesus
Rita M. Gross

The topic
of developing a Buddhist view of Jesus is challenging to me on many
levels, for many reasons. Not the least of them involves my own unhappy
childhood and young adulthood being trained as a member of a version
of Christianity that expressed an extremely exclusivist position
regarding religious pluralism. Nevertheless, I have long practiced
Buddhist-Christian dialogue as a Buddhist, in part as an antidote to
that unhappy past, as a deliberate attempt to heal the wounds inflicted
on me by an exclusivist and doctrinaire version of Christianity. So why
does this task of developing a Buddhist view of Jesus remain difficult?

In part this task is difficult because it is unfamiliar. In my world
religions classes, I routinely present Jewish views of Jesus, but there
is little reason to discuss Jesus in the perspectives of other major
religions and I have almost never broached the topic. In my feminist
theology classes, I again discuss feminist reactions to Jesus, but
there is little reason to present a feminist Buddhist perspective on
Jesus. Little Buddhist literature about Buddhist reactions to Jesus and
few Buddhist assessments of Christianity exist, though the reverse is
not true,
which perhaps indicates that fellow Buddhists have also felt little
need to develop a reaction to or a position about Jesus. But it is also
difficult because in Buddhist-Christian dialogue, we often discuss more
abstract and less troublesome topics than the traditional Christian
evaluation of Jesus, with its undeniably exclusivistic and universal
truth claims. Thus, in many ways, I have been able to keep a distance
between my own experiences of Christianity and my own experiences of
Buddhism. Encountering Christians in Buddhist-Christian dialogue and
teaching Christian feminist theology are really much simpler than
trying to untangle my own Buddhist reactions to central Christian
claims, including especially claims about the ultimate and universal
significance of Jesus.

Nevertheless, it is clear that my task in this essay is to react to
Jesus as a Buddhist, something I have not done formally in any other
context. Therefore, I have proceeded with the assumption that my task
is to find the relevant Buddhist categories for interpreting Jesus in
Buddhist terms, to delineate them briefly to non-Buddhists, and then to
apply them to Jesus or to Christian claims about Jesus. This assignment
is not as innocent or as easy as it seems at first reading. The first
difficulty is determining who or what one is reacting to in the exercise
of developing a Buddhist view of Jesus. Depending on who or what one
understands Jesus to be, or depending on which Christian claims about
Jesus one comments upon, a Buddhist could have radically different views
about Jesus. So clearly, the first task in developing a Buddhist view of
Jesus is to determine which Jesus will be discussed. Then, secondly, it
is difficult but important to maintain the primary focus as a Buddhist
focus, using Buddhist rather than Christian categories to control the
discourse. I say this because

[End Page 62]

much of the literature seems to compare Buddhism to Christianity, placing
Christianity and Christian categories in central focus and matching
concepts from the Christian point of view. I want to match concepts with
Buddhist categories as my central reference point, fitting the Christian
Jesus into a Buddhist framework.

How should I, as a Buddhist, determine what is meant by the Christian
category Jesus? As is evidenced by the radically different images
of Jesus in popular Christianity, by much recent scholarship on the
Gospels, and by a diverse body of Christological writings, Christians
themselves would be hard pressed to give a definitive or a short answer
to the question “Just who or what am I supposed to be discussing from a
Buddhist point of view?” Am I to talk of the historical Jesus, of the
Jesus of the Gospels, of the Jesus of the early church, or of Jesus
as understood through central theological doctrines, such as Trinity
and Incarnation, which are actually much later in their genesis? My
assignment, which is to discuss “the Jesus of Christianity,”
does not really solve that problem, since there are so many Jesuses
of Christianity. But I think we can safely assume that “the Jesus
of Christianity” includes all the above except, perhaps, the
historical Jesus, who is a recent construction and not so central to
many Christians’ religious lives. In any case, I shall direct most of
my comments to Jesus as he has been interpreted by major stands within
Christianity and will not try to solve the problem of whether he ever
intended to leave such a message or what his own intended message may
have been.

With that decision, we invite some ghosts to enter. Christianity is
not only something I learned about academically or at a distance,
as would be the case for most Buddhists. Rather, as already said, my
early indoctrination involved an extremely exclusivist interpretation
of Jesus. Experientially, for me, the central Christian claim about
Jesus is the exclusivist interpretation of belief in Jesus’ redemptive
death and resurrection as the only way to ‘salvation.’ Though I know
intellectually that inclusivist and pluralist Christian views of Jesus
are well developed, nevertheless, to me they do not seem to carry
the normative and traditional weight that the exclusivist position
carries. And exclusivist truth claims in religion, I would argue, are
among the most dangerous, destructive, and immoral ideas that humans
have ever created.

Therefore, for me, the first hurdle that must be negotiated in developing
a Buddhist view of Jesus is the hurdle of exclusive truth claims,
which involves developing a philosophy of religious pluralism, based
on Buddhist categories, that is radically nonexclusivist. This task is
so central for me because of the way in which I left the only kind of
Christianity I knew experientially. Though I was, and still am, quite
sincere in my spiritual inclinations and quite capable of understanding
abstract theological concepts, I was also “too thoughtful” and “asked too
many questions,” as it was put to me. During my senior year of college,
I was excommunicated for heresy and confidently told that I would go to
hell for my religious views. The major bone of contention was my view of
religious pluralism, namely that people of all religions “could be saved,”
as I naively put it in those days before I had studied much comparative
religion. I had been indoctrinated that all non-Christian religions
and most other versions of Christianity were ‘false.’ Ridicule of these
other beliefs, pity for people misguided and deluded into adherence to
such folly, and devotion to the

[End Page 63]

cause of converting them to ‘the one true faith’ were daily
fare. Obviously, the exclusive claims made on behalf of Jesus
by Christians appalled me even as a teenager, and my repugnance for
exclusive truth claims on the part of religions–any religion–has not
diminished since. Thus, part of my journey is working out both a theory
and a praxis of religious pluralism that is neither relativistic nor
universalistic, that encourages both commitment to one tradition and
appreciation of other traditions.

I am aware that currently most liberal Christian theologians are as
appalled by this tradition of exclusivism as I am. I am also aware
that the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church, in
Vatican II, have come to a position on religious pluralism that is often
called the ‘inclusivist position,’ which is claimed to diverge sharply
from the exclusivist position. The inclusivist position “affirm[s] the
value and dignity of all religious paths.” Nevertheless, this position,
like the exclusivist position, “attributes to Christ and Christianity
. . . an ultimacy and normativity meant to embrace and fulfill all
other religions.” Additionally, according to Paul Knitter, inclusivist
Christians also “interpret the uniqueness of Jesus in terms of finality
and unsurpassability.”
As a Buddhist, I find these claims offensive, and I think most
non-Christians probably share my reaction. Nor would I feel comfortable,
as a Buddhist, in making the same claim about Buddhism vis-à-vis

I am also aware of an even newer and smaller voice in Christian theology
called the ‘pluralist’ position. I have much more sympathy with this
position, which claims a “possible parity of all religions and
. . . eschew[s] any final or absolute truth.” What I am not in sympathy
with is their claim, at least as expressed by Paul Knitter, that “Jesus’
uniqueness [is] the universality and indispensability of
His message and mission.”
My objections are fairly subtle; this claim seems to state both that
Jesus is unique among religious figures and that he had a message and a
mission that the world cannot do without, for I see no other way to read
the words universal and indispensable in Paul Knitter’s
statement. As a Buddhist, I’m not at all sure that I see Jesus as unique,
as universal, or as indispensable, which makes me question this version
of Christian pluralism. I realize that as a Buddhist I probably often
feel and sound the same way about the message and mission of Buddhism
that Paul Knitter sounds about the message and mission of Jesus. But
I try to regard that tone in my rhetoric as a failing rather than a
virtue. Such assessments of Buddhism are so demeaning to non-Buddhists.

These two recent Christian attempts to disown the dominant doctrines
throughout most of Christian history cannot, for me, undo the emotional
damage done by exclusivist indoctrination, atone for the historical record
of inhumane acts and attitudes motivated by exclusivist attitudes, or
counter my impression that most of my Christian students and neighbors
are not inclusivists or pluralists. True, the person in the street usually
is rather unfamiliar with the depth dimension of his or her religion and
is probably a rather poor spokesperson for it. Buddhist popular religion
is not especially edifying either. However, I object to the Jesus of
popular religion as interpreted by major strands of Christianity not
because this interpretation is unedifying or crude, but because this very
widespread and prevalent interpretation is dangerous, destructive,
and degraded.
The impact of the Jesus of Christianity on people

[End Page 64]

in other world religions has often been quite negative. The gap between
the esoteric Jesus of nonexclusivists and the exoteric universal and
indispensable savior whom all must confess and often are compelled to
confess is enormous. I will speak, admittedly prompted by ghosts of
confirmation classes past, to this more familiar Jesus found in the
rhetoric of many, many Christians.

Some have criticized me throughout the years for not regarding the
conservative sect in which I was raised, with its strongly exclusivist
position, as an aberrant and degraded form of Christianity. Such critics
argue that I could have found another version of Christianity that
would have been less given to such exaggerations. I am also told that
my assessments of Christianity are not accurate because they are too
colored by my experiences with an extreme position. Unfortunately, whether
correctly or incorrectly, I cannot see this sect as so completely aberrant
a form of Christianity, but only as an extremely vociferous exponent of
a common position. Most other Christians are not so sure about who will
populate heaven and hell as were the members of this sect, but exclusivism
and absolutism are entailed by the central claims made about Jesus, as
interpreted by large segments of Christianity throughout most of Christian
history. And, in spite of the presence of inclusivist and pluralist
Christian thought, many of the Christians I encounter are still taught
the exclusivist position by their churches and are completely unaware
of other Christian positions on religious pluralism. Every semester, I
encounter students who have been indoctrinated to such positions very
recently. For example, my Catholic students all know that Catholics are
not supposed to use birth control, but few of them know that Vatican II
recommends a somewhat inclusivist view of religious pluralism. Since
religious exclusivism is much more dangerous and has caused a great
deal more pain than has the practice of birth control, one would think
that educating Catholics about their church’s contemporary position on
religious pluralism would be a higher priority.

This train of reasoning, whether correct or incorrect, keeps me, as an act
of prophetic faithfulness, from adhering to a religion for which absolute
and exclusive truth claims are or have been central and which, therefore,
has a poor historical record of dealing with religious pluralism and
coexistence. That is why I could not become a liberal Christian. That
is also why I continue to focus on alternatives to religious exclusivism
as the heart of my Buddhist view of Jesus.

Religious Language and Religious Pluralism

Since religions make verbal statements that are frequently taken as
accurate assessments of ultimate reality by their adherents, it might
be wondered how any religion could avoid absolutism and exclusivism. It
might further be wondered if I could, without violating my own pluralistic
principles, adhere to Buddhism, since Buddhism, like Christianity, is one
of the few religions that even tries to promote itself to outsiders. I
want to try to deal with these very reasonable questions by talking
about the Buddhist attitude toward verbal and conceptual formulations
of truth, which I find highly attractive precisely because it seems to
me to allow a position that is neither relativistic nor exclusivistic.

[End Page 65]

Regarding the purpose of doctrinal statements, in my view Buddhism and
Christianity differ sharply. I have not found a more succinct or accurate
summary of the Buddhist position than that of Paul Griffiths: “[T]here
is a methodological principle . . . that has to do with the nature of
religious doctrines. Briefly and rather crudely, this principle suggests
that religious doctrines have utility rather than truth; that their
importance lies in the effects they have upon those who believe in them.”
Space does not permit me to demonstrate that this is indeed the Buddhist
position, but let us assume that Griffiths is correct.

In Buddhist terms, this means that verbal doctrines are ultimately in
the realm of upaya, skillful means or method, not the realm of
prajna, intuitive clear seeing or ‘truth.’
This is an extremely fruitful insight, for Buddhism, like Christianity,
would affirm that prajna is unitive and the same for all people
in all cases. But truth is not a matter of doctrines and doctrines
are neither true nor false; they are more or less useful in the
circumstances at hand. Truth, or prajna (literally, “superior
knowledge”), has always been understood more as ability than as a body
of information, more as ‘knowing’ than as ‘knowledge’ in Buddhism. It
can be hinted at and pointed to, but even the finest doctrine is merely
a pointer. Nothing makes this point more forcefully than the famous
“raft parable” attributed to the Buddha. “Oh Bhikkhus, even this view,
which is so pure and so clear, if you cling to it, if you fondle it, if
you treasure it, then you do not understand that the teaching is similar
to a raft, which is for crossing over, and not for getting hold of.”
Truth is extra-verbal and verbal formulations of truth are
approximations, not final statements.

On the other hand, upaya, usually translated as “skillful
means” or “method,” has always been understood to be multiple, even
infinitely various, because what is crucial is finding the method or tool
appropriate to the circumstances at hand. The more skilled the
interpreter or teacher of Buddhism, the greater his or her repertoire
of appropriate skillful means. No one would be so foolish as to expect
to find a tool that works for every task and, therefore, one should not
attempt to find a one-size-fits-all doctrine. One would be foolish to
universalize or absolutize a doctrine or to claim that only adherents
of this doctrine are adequate spiritually.

The point that doctrine is in the realm of upaya rather than the
realm of prajna is important and subtle because westerners are
extremely likely to miss it as a result of their cultural training and
preconceptions. First of all, neither the distinction between method
and truth nor the claims that they are of coequal importance is part
of the Western frame of discourse. Second, if the distinction were
even recognized, westerners would be likely to regard prajna as
‘real’–really true–while upaya would be regarded as secondary
and approximate. In the many years that I have spent trying to assimilate
genuinely Buddhist modes of apprehension, nothing has been more foreign
than the coequal status of prajna with upaya or the
relegation of verbal truths to the realm of upaya. Thus I find
these conceptual possibilities to be a genuine relief and a way out of
absolutist modes of discourse that I had found unbearable.

Though again space does not permit a demonstration, I think the mainline
traditional Christian view is quite the opposite. Doctrines may contain
utility, but their

[End Page 66]

most important function is their truth value as is evidenced by the
longstanding concern with what people will confess verbally. There is
a close link between words and truth in many Christian assessments and
more trust that words can convey truth than is typical of most other
religions. Therefore, verbal doctrines are primarily evaluated as true
or false, not as salutary or destructive. This method fuels the hope
for, and often the claim of, final truth in verbal form. As a result,
Christians, more than most other religious traditions, try to distill
true doctrine into a succinct creed and often regard adherence to that
creed as more important than understanding of it. Confession of those
verbal doctrines matters ultimately. Hence, these doctrines are easily
absolutized by claiming exclusive truth for them, and nonadherents are
easily regarded as inferior.

To regard doctrines as more important and worthwhile for their verbal
utility than for their verbal truth and to judge them more by their
effects on adherents than by their verbal contents seems to me to
overcome absolutism with all its attendant problems while not falling
into relativism. First of all, with this attitude, one does not have to
absolutize one’s own concepts of truth nor to long for a world in which
all agree on the same expressions of truth. Rather, religious symbol
systems could coexist and complement each other like colors of a rainbow.
A religious myth or symbol would be regarded as a poem rather than
as a historical or scientific statement. I would argue that most
exclusive truth claims in religion are based on regarding religion
as more akin to what westerners now call ‘history’ or ‘science’ than
what westerners now call ‘art’ or ‘poetry.’ Superficially, many people
think that the question in historical or scientific disciplines is the
question of truth or falsity, while the question for art, poetry, or
mythology is a question of taste or aesthetics. Generally, people are
much more flexible and nonexclusive about aesthetic judgments than
about historical or scientific claims. No one would want to abolish
all poetry in the world except for one’s favorite poem, nor even expect
everyone to agree that this is the most wonderful poem ever written. Why
should it be different with religious doctrines, which are ultimately
mythopoeic, not discursive, in their mode of discourse? Ironically, such
an attitude would also make religious statements more rather than less
like scientific or historical statements, because those who understand
these disciplines realize that scientific and historical statements are
hypotheses, subject to a continual process of change, adjustment, and
refinement, not some final and absolute statement. No sensible person
is ever more than provisionally committed to a hypothesis, which does
not lessen its force to explain or motivate in the absence of a better
hypothesis. With the world’s religions, we have a number of reasonably
cogent hypotheses about some rather unanswerable questions. The myth
and symbol system surrounding Jesus could well be one such hypothesis,
but that has not been a mainstream understanding of the Jesus of

One who judges a doctrine on the basis of what it does rather than on
its literal or verbal truth value also has another excellent basis for
appreciating a foreign symbol system that is conceptually incompatible
with one’s own. It can be appreciated not only as a wonderful poem and
an interesting hypothesis, but as a source of

[End Page 67]

humane behavior in the world. Such is the basis for the Dalai Lama’s
encomiums of Christianity in his frequent pleas for tolerance, mutual
respect, and coexistence among the world’s religions: “Through the various
religious systems, followers are assuming a salutary attitude toward their
fellow human beings–our brothers and sisters–and implementing this good
motivation in the service of human society. This has been demonstrated
by a great many believers in Christianity throughout history. Many have
sacrificed their lives for the benefit of humankind.”
This statement is made despite major doctrinal differences between
Buddhism and Christianity–of which the Dalai Lama is well aware–and
his own personal devotion to the Buddhist symbols and doctrines.

At the same time, assessing doctrines on their utility means that
the charge of relativism, often brought against pluralists, is
countered. While, in general, relativism seems superior to absolutism
because it is more humane and less ethnocentric, logic compels one to
admit that there must be limits to relativism. Finding that boundary is
never easy. But clearly, any doctrine that encourages intolerance and
mutual hostility would be negatively evaluated, using the criterion of
utility. Most doctrines do not, in and of themselves, engender mutual
disrespect and hostility, unless they are absolutized. And
almost any doctrine, whatever its contents, could then be utilized
inhumanely if it is absolutized. Thus at least one limit to relativism
would be the absolutizing of any doctrine or any doctrine that cannot
be de-absolutized by the very nature of its claims. Such doctrines,
because of their exclusivism and absolutism, cannot claim parity or
equal validity with other doctrines that do not seek such a monopoly
on religious expression. (Is monotheism the prime example of such a
claim?) Pluralism and doctrines that are absolutized cannot coexist. Given
the frequent and widespread negative results of absolutism, it seems clear
that, using the method of judging doctrines on their utility, this impasse
can be resolved morally only by renouncing doctrinal absolutism. Probably
conventional Christian claims about Jesus fall under judgment of being a
conceptual absolute. I also feel quite certain that the Jesus myth does
not have to be subjected to such absolutisms.

Sometimes when I argue in this fashion, people accuse me of merely
substituting one absolute–pluralism–for another. But they misunderstand,
for I am suggesting a methodological absolute, not a doctrinal
absolute. There is every difference in the world between a methodological
absolute and a doctrinal absolute. This methodological absolute–that
doctrines should be evaluated on the basis of their effect on behavior,
not their verbal truth value–definitively undercuts any attempt to
establish a doctrinal or ideological absolute. Precisely this is what is
required in the world, at least at present. Furthermore, we also notice
that the methodological absolute of evaluating doctrines on the basis
of their utility allows us to posit ethical absolutes, such as
nonharming, even though conceptual or doctrinal absolutes are impossible.

If we reflect further, we also notice that despite glaring oppositions
at the level of symbol and doctrine, the world’s major religions have all
produced a remarkably similar core basic ethic. We also must notice that,
unfortunately, they have produced remarkably similar ethical distortions
as well, of which patriarchal sexism is one of

[End Page 68]

the more widespread and serious. This should indicate that no major
doctrinal system is so far off the mark that it cannot produce a relevant
ethic, nor so perfect that it guards its adherents against ethical
failure. It should also indicate that the specific symbol, myth, and
doctrines of choice are not all that central and that the more urgent
realm for ultimate concern is our interactions with our world, not our
modes of symbolizing or theorizing that world.

Thus it is clear that I am neither advocating mere relativism nor merely
substituting one absolute for another. I am advocating conceptual relativism along with minimal moral and methodological absolutes. Because absolutes can be so dangerous, they should always
be kept to the barest possible minimum, but sheer relativism is equally
dangerous. To refrain from conceptual and doctrinal absolutes while
giving one’s loyalty and energy to ethical and methodological absolutes
is the appropriate negotiation of that difficult passage.

Finally, I want as a Buddhist to react to the evaluation of some Christian
pluralists who, while they do not absolutize the Jesus of Christianity,
nevertheless posit an ‘indispensability and uniqueness’ for his message
and mission. Such rhetoric pressures non-Christians at least to think
Jesus was an extraordinary, extremely incredible human being, even if they
don’t agree with Christological doctrines. Many, even members of groups
that have not been treated well historically by Christians, such as Jews
or feminists, politely make the case that Jesus was really okay–it’s
what Christians have done to him that’s the problem. Such rhetoric is,
I believe, a concession to Christian pressure to venerate Jesus even if
one does not worship him.

I have questioned whether such Christians take the time to do a basic
exercise in empathy in which they would imagine how such claims come
across to non-Christians. Returning for a moment to the criterion
of utility as a norm for judging concepts, such claims seem to me to
be seriously lacking in upaya, or skillful methods, because of
their negative effects on listeners such as myself. To me they certainly
are not attractive, and I feel an unwelcome pressure to revere Jesus as
someone whom I find unique and indispensable, which is not the case. For
me, emotionally, when Christians insist that Jesus must be seen as
indispensable and universal in his message and mission, it becomes almost
impossible to appreciate him in any way at any level. Such rhetoric
pushes me to the opposite reaction: “Why should I?” I would prefer to
be allowed to have no opinion, to be neutral and agnostic regarding the
uniqueness and indispensability of Jesus’ mission and message.

The Christian pluralist’s claims for the indispensability and uniqueness
of his message and mission put me in the unwelcome position of having
to explain why I cannot share that judgment even though I do not wish
to disparage Jesus any more than I wish to venerate or praise him. I
am serious when I say that I can see no basis for venerating Jesus as
a human being in a league by himself unsurpassed or unequaled by other
human beings in his heroism, compassion, wisdom, or godliness, or in
the cogency and relevance of his message. I can’t get that extreme of
uniqueness out of my reading of the New Testament.

I suspect that many conservative Christians might, in a roundabout
way, agree

[End Page 69]

with me. Humanist and rationalist Christians often emphasize the human
Jesus as a uniquely impressive human being. The more traditional Christian
reason to see Jesus as unique is to state that he is “the only begotten
son of God.” This separates him from all other human beings, whose
task is to worship, rather than to venerate him. And his task is to do
what no human can do–to atone for sin and redeem humanity. This way
of understanding Jesus emphasizes the mission over the message and sees
Jesus as external savior who confers or bestows liberation on another. In
Buddhist terms, this is the essence of theism, the most puzzling and
unrealistic doctrine of Christianity to a Buddhist. At this point, as
a Buddhist, I simply pull back to listen.

A Buddhist Jesus

But setting aside claims at any level, whether absolute or relative, as
to the uniqueness and indispensability of Jesus’ message and mission,
how could a Buddhist fit Jesus into a Buddhist framework? In listening
to comparisons of the Buddha and the Christ, I have often been struck
by the impression that, because of the political hegemony of Western
thought modes, most of the discourse regards the Jesus of Christianity
as the normative figure and tries to understand the Buddha in his terms,
by comparison with him. I want to reverse that process and try to explore
what a genuinely Buddhist Jesus might be like.

This process begins by noting a less serious–though perhaps more
interesting–difference between Buddhism and Christianity than Christian
claims about the uniqueness and indispensability of the message and
mission of Jesus. The Christian tendency is to locate truth in the
messenger, whereas Buddhism tends to focus on the message. This I think
correlates well the Christian tendency to personify the ultimate while
Buddhists tend toward nonpersonal metaphors about ultimate reality. I
cannot think of any reason to argue that one style is more conducive
to humane behavior than the other, so using the principle of assessing
doctrines on the basis of their utility, I see no reason to draw these two
styles into competition with each other. Because I regard absolutism and
exclusivism as the problem, I would not critique the Christian tendency
to center on the messenger, but its tendency to absolutize the Messenger.

Though Buddhism does not focus on the messenger, nevertheless it has
developed a considerable repertoire of anthropomorphic and personalized
symbols that can be of considerable significance on the spiritual path
of the Buddhist. Using the method of mutual transformation through
dialogue, I want to suggest that Christians seeking ways to go beyond
absolutizing the Messenger might well study Buddhist ways of mythologizing
and conceptualizing their personal and anthropomorphic figures, which are
important and spiritually helpful, but are not absolutized. Therefore, I
will indulge in a constructive fantasy, imagining how I would see Jesus
interpreted if Buddhist ways of interpreting the messenger were to be
utilized by Christians.

This exercise should be grounded in several generalizations about

[End Page 70]

figures in Buddhism. First, in every case, there are numerous examples
of each type. No one is ultimately unique, though each has ordinary
uniqueness–that is to say, individuality. Second, they are always
human examples and ideals, not lords of an unattainable state. They
are exalted and may be far beyond my current abilities, but not
beyond my human capabilities. Thus, we approach them with veneration
but not with worship. This distinction between worship and veneration
is critical for explaining the difference in attitude and ritual mood
between nontheism and theism–and often between Asian and monotheistic
forms of religion. Veneration honors and respects someone who has
attained a great deal and inspires the venerator to strive toward that
attainment, but there is no metaphysical duality between venerator and
venerated. Worship declares allegiance and praises or thanks the other,
acknowledging an ultimate duality between worshiper and worshiped.

When discussing important anthropomorphic symbols in Buddhism and
comparing them to the Jesus of Christianity, the first figure that comes
to mind is, of course, the Buddha figure. Hence, Christians who wish
to draw parallels between Jesus and other important religious figures
often suggest this comparison. After all, both the Buddha and Jesus
are seen as founders. Buddhists, however, are more likely to compare
the Jesus of Christianity with the bodhisattva figure. I share that
judgment because classically, rather different claims are made about
the Buddha than about Jesus, their biographies are only superficially
similar, and their missions are quite different. That both are seen by
historians as founders of a new religion is too superficial to create a
profound similarity. I doubt that either saw himself as founder of a new
religion, nor do their followers regard their religions as nonexistent
before the Buddha or Jesus lived.

The major difference between a Buddha and the Christ, which causes these
two figures to be quite dissimilar, concerns what their followers believe
each can do for the faithful. Buddhists go for refuge to the Buddha as
example, but the Buddha’s own enlightenment solves only his problems, not
theirs. Vicarious enlightenment is not possible according to Buddhist
analysis (except for Pure Land Buddhism). Christians have faith in
Jesus as the redeemer, whose sacrificial death does what they cannot
do, providing the means for reconciliation with a transcendent deity by
vicariously atoning for all sin. Vicarious atonement and redemption are
the only possibility in classical Christianity.

From this vast difference in declaring whether or not the primary task
of the founder is to vicariously save or free the faithful follow other
important differences. There is only one Jesus of Christianity, whereas
all forms of Buddhism, including those that claim there is only one
Buddha in each world age, affirm the existence of multiple Buddhas,
the Buddhas of the three times. These Buddhas are more identical than
unique; they are difficult to distinguish iconographically and the salient
points of their mythic biographies are identical. The point being made
is that, wondrous as are the accomplishments of a Buddha, they are not
unreduplicatable. The extent to which a Buddhist is encouraged to strive
for Buddhahood differs considerably among the various strands of Buddhism,
but that others besides Siddartha

[End Page 71]

Gautama become Buddhas is affirmed by all forms of Buddhism, and none
claims that Siddartha’s Buddhahood saves anyone else.

All forms of Buddhism also mention in passing a little-known figure,
the pratyekabuddha, often translated as a “solitary Buddha.” The
meaning of his or her solitariness is that this person understands
fully and becomes enlightened without a teacher, simply by deducing the
spiritual and physical laws of existence through contemplation. This
person not only is not a student of another, but also, unlike a Buddha,
does not teach. For this reason, the pratyekabuddha is not dwelt
upon or honored in most forms of Buddhism. But the importance for a
comparison with the Jesus of Christianity is the Buddhist affirmation,
again, that salvation need not be mediated by another and that the
enlightenment of a Buddha is not unique.

Given Buddhism and Christianity as they are currently
constituted, Jesus is not very similar to either a Buddha or a
pratyekabuddha. Furthermore, the dissimilarities mirror the major
doctrinal differences between the two religions. When we discuss the
Buddhist bodhisattva figure, however, we find that real similarities
exist between the two religions in their current forms. The bodhisattva
is known to all forms of Buddhism but is much more central to Mahayana
than to Theravadin forms of Buddhism. Not by definition, but by derived
implication, a bodhisattva is a future Buddha, someone who has taken
the vow to achieve complete perfect unsurpassable enlightenment for the
benefit of all sentient beings, rather than to rest with the individually
salvific enlightenment of an arahant. In Mahayana Buddhism, this
is the ideal of all serious adherents of the religion and most take the
bodhisattva vow. Those with a casual knowledge of Buddhism often are more
familiar with the great mythic bodhisattvas of the Mahayana pantheon, but
to emphasize them to the exclusion of the ordinary mundane bodhisattva
is incorrect. For one who takes the bodhisattva vow, the emphasis is
generally not on the ultimate goal of final enlightenment, but on the
intermediate lives of the bodhisattva, who trains ceaselessly in wisdom
and method (prajna and upaya of the first section of this
paper), and who is willing to go to any lengths or make any sacrifice
that would help others progress spiritually.

Some obvious parallels can be made with the Jesus of Christianity. In
Buddhist terms, Jesus seems much more like a bodhisattva than like a
Buddha to me. This is because of his willingness to suffer on behalf of
others and the extent to which, according to the text itself as well as
all forms of Christianity, he put the well-being of others before his own
comfort–an important, emotionally moving ideal for Mahayanists. Also,
insofar as the imitation of Christ is an important moral ideal in
Christianity, the individual Christian’s attempt to be Christlike is
similar to the Mahayanist’s assumption of the bodhisattva’s task. This
comparison also downplays some of the contrasts that make the comparison
of Jesus and Buddha less apt. In both cases, the emphasis is on the
passion of the compassionate helper, not on the eventual achievement or
results of that passion, which, as we have seen, are quite different.

In Buddhism, it is even clearer that there are many bodhisattvas than
it is that the Buddha is not unique. Thus it is easy for a Buddhist to
see Jesus as ‘a bodhisattva,’

[End Page 72]

as there is no dogma or assumption that all bodhisattvas belong to the
Buddhist religion. Since a Buddhist would not say “the bodhisattva,”
implying that there is only one unique bodhisattva, a Buddhist could
easily see Jesus as a bodhisattva without acknowledging Christian claims
about his uniqueness or universality. In sum, this is a way that Buddhists
can appreciate Jesus in Buddhist terms with a minimum of conflict between
Buddhist assertions and Christian assertions. Probably, however, even
the Christian pluralist wouldn’t be satisfied, since a Buddhist could, if she or he wanted, venerate Jesus as a bodhisattva, but no Buddhist
would claim that one must venerate this bodhisattva,
or insist on “the universality and indispensability of his message and
mission.” But at least Buddhist and Christian pluralists could agree that
there is no problem with the continued existence of the two religions
with two different conceptualizations of the ultimate.

The final Buddhist anthropomorphic figures that I will discuss are not
well understood by many, but in my opinion they provide the most authentic
way of incorporating Jesus into a Buddhist conceptual system. Therefore,
these figures could be most productively contemplated by Christians
interested in using Buddhist materials to expand their understandings
of the Jesus of Christianity. The yidams of Vajrayana Buddhism,
colorful beings who are depicted with great variety in Tibetan art, are
anthropomorphic personifications of enlightened activity. These beings
are of both genders, often with multiple heads and arms, portrayed in
vivid primary colors, sometimes alone and sometimes in sexual embrace,
sometimes wrathful and sometimes peaceful. Though outsiders are most
familiar with them as art objects, their true significance is their
esoteric use in meditation, as so-called meditation deities. They are
visualized by the meditator, who also recites a liturgy explaining all
the symbolism contained in the colors, attributes, and poses of these
deities, performs hand gestures that express these meanings, and intones
a mantra specific to the deity. There are many yidams in Vajrayana
Buddhism and they are not ranked in a hierarchy. In a vague way, a certain
yidam might be especially appropriate for a specific individual,
stage of life, or situation, but this is a matter of utility, of method,
of using the right tool for the job, not of right or wrong, correct or
incorrect, conceptually.

These deities, however, are quite different from the deities of
monotheistic religions, at least as their deities are usually understood
by monotheists. As anthropomorphic representation of enlightenment,
they are not metaphysically separate creators and saviors. As such, they
are not ultimately separate from the meditator, who identifies with the
deity by visualizing him or herself as the deity, using this method to
wake up more quickly one’s own enlightened qualities. In this kind of
meditation, it is possible to relate fully with a deity emotionally
without falling into the conceptual trap (from the Buddhist point of
view) of metaphysical dualism.

To see Jesus as a yidam would probably seem incongruent to
many Christians. Yet to me this is the most attractive and reasonable
possibility of all. This may in some part be due to the fact that I
myself, despite my personal history and my conceptual disagreement with
much Christian conceptual apparatus, can appreciate Christian liturgy very
deeply if I take it as Christian sadhana, thinking of it in much

[End Page 73]

the same way that I think of Buddhist sadhana liturgies invoking
the meditation deities with whom I have worked in my own practices. I
must confess to occasional fantasy of what a sadhana invoking
Jesus in yab-yum form would entail and how beneficial it could be!

There are also substantive reasons for suggesting this possibility. Using
the criterion of utility, of assessing a religious phenomenon in
terms of its effect on those who adhere to it, Jesus as the yidam of a Christian sadhana would encourage profound emotional,
psychological, and spiritual transformation in those who performed
this sadhana. This transformation, after all, is the important
factor. My studies as a historian of religions lead me to suspect that
all successful religious activity in fact does what is explicitly and
consciously sought in the practice of sadhana–self-transformation,
temporary and permanent, through using all human faculties (body,
speech, and mind) in meditative or contemplative ritual. To do so through
visualization of and identification with a yidam as anthropomorphic
representation of enlightenment, as well as of one’s own potential, is
simply to be very explicit and self-aware about one’s goals.

Interpreting Jesus as a yidam intersects in interesting ways
with central Christian interpretations of Jesus as “the incarnate son of
God.” If we interpret Jesus as an incarnate son of God, with an emphasis
on the incarnate person rather than on his task of atonement
and redemption, the conversation can go in a direction quite different
from usual Christian claims. Is it necessary to see Jesus as uniquely incarnate? The usual answer is yes. It is a truism that, while
Christians are urged to be Christlike, no one of them aspires to become
Christ. To me, as a Buddhist, this idea seems almost self-defeating. To
put it most bluntly, to me it would be supremely frustrating to be told
on the one hand that I should be Christlike, but on the other that I
am condemned and predestined to failure in that central task. To see
Jesus as model of incarnation rather than as sole possible example of
incarnation would be so much more inspiring and attractive.
And that would be the effect of regarding Jesus as a yidam whose
sadhana one practiced both in formal meditation and in life. Such
an interpretation of Jesus would also mesh well with the most basic
effect of incarnational theology, which is the sense of sacramental
or sacred presence in the world that flows out of a theology of deity
incarnate in the phenomenal world. A sense of sacred presence within
the phenomenal world overcomes the remoteness of a transcendent deity
and also overcomes the metaphysical dualism between deity and humanity.

Christians, however–even pluralist Christians–might well find my
suggestion ludicrous and state cogent reasons why. I have anticipated at
least some of their objections and could reply. First, they might say,
the identification with Jesus is unacceptable and blasphemous. But I
would suggest that if one is serious about the imitation of Christ, such
meditations are rather effective means to that end. Second, many would
say that yidams are clearly mythic projections, whereas Jesus is
a historical character. My reply would be that the Jesus of Christianity,
theologized as the second person of a trinity, is also highly mythic and
that the Jesus of empirical history is untraceable. Religion is not made
of empirical history; it is made of mythical

[End Page 74]

history, of highly selective symbolic interpretations of historical
events, even for those religions that are ‘historical.’ Jesus is
effective and transformative for Christian piety of all levels
of sophistication insofar as he functions as what Jungians would
call an archetype, not because of his historical existence. I do not
think such a statement psychologizes religion but rather explains how
religious doctrines, which are mythic projections, work to transform
their adherents.

However, I also have different reservations about the suggestions I
have just made. They explain how I as a Buddhist would understand Jesus
if I for some reason were compelled to fit Jesus into my religious
universe. There is no real reason why I should do that, since I
reject the Christian pluralists’ claim for “the universality and
indispensability of his message and mission.” Nor do I presume that
Christians should be attracted to my solution of what is essentially
their problem–the meaning of the Jesus of Christianity to Christians who
coinhabit a global village with non-Christians. I prefer, in the long
run, to let the two myth and symbol systems stand as they are–unique,
radically different, and magnificent. That solution, however, requires
everyone to renounce exclusive and absolute claims for and about their
conceptualizations of the ultimate. That includes Christians and their
claims for the uniqueness, unsurpassability, finality, indispensability,
and universality of Jesus! Except for that claim, he seems fine as he
is and doesn’t really need to be reconceptualized in Buddhist terms. I
have never understood why Christians feel they would lose so much if
they gave up those claims about Jesus. To me it seems they lose nothing
important and would gain cohumanity with the rest of us.

University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire


This essay was first prepared for a conference on Views of Jesus
from the Perspectives of the World’s Religions, held at Vivekananda
Monastery and Retreat Center, Ganges, Michigan, September 1990. It has
been substantially revised for publication.

Paul Griffiths, Christianity through Non-Christian Eyes (Maryknoll,
New York: Orbis, 1990).

From the brochure announcing the conference for which this paper was
initially written.

Paul Knitter, “Key questions for a Theology of Religions,” Horizons 17, no. 1 (1990), pp. 92-97.

Ibid., p. 97.

Griffiths, p. 236.

In Mahayana Buddhism, upaya and prajna are the two most
important disciplines of and skills sought by a bodhisattva. Though both
are equally important and necessary, and the goal of religious practice
could be said to the “union of upaya and prajna,” this
union of the right and left hands brought in anjali, the mudra
of folded hands, or the union of male and female in the sexual embrace
of the yab-yum icon. In other words, this union is the union of
nonduality, not the union of monism. This extremely subtle point cannot
be overemphasized.

Ruhula Walpola, What the Buddha Taught, (New York: Grove Press,
1974) p. 11.

This is one of the most familiar metaphors for the multiplicity of

Griffiths, p. 164.

Interestingly, many Christian feminists are also suggesting that Jesus
be seen as model of incarnation, rather than as sole representative
of incarnation.

Buddhist-Christian Studies 19.1 (1999) 62-75
Copyright ⓒ 1999 The University of Hawai’i Press. All rights reserved.

‘DUN 頓’: A Chinese concept as a Key to ‘Mysticism’ in East and West

‘DUN 頓’: A Chinese concept as a Key to ‘Mysticism’ in East and West
Urs. App


If one disregards the particular forms and examines the content, one will find that Shakyamuni and Meister Eckhart teach the same thing.                            Arthur Schopenhauer


When Paul Demiéville first explored the theme of dun 頓 and jian 漸 in an article entitled “The Spiritual Mirror” he began with a discussion of the famous verses in the Platform Sûtra 壇經 but soon went on to point out Chinese(Zhuangzi 莊子, Huainanzi 淮南子, Xunzi 荀子) and Indian antecedents(Upanishads, Asanga, Yogâcâra 唯識, and Shankâra). Then he traced further parallels in the Middle Eastern(Al-Ghazzâli)and European traditions (Plato, Plotinus, Origenes, Dionysios Areopagitus, etc.). Demiéville stated that he tried “to clarify a Chinese philosophical metaphor by contrasting it with parallels inside and outside of China.”

Since Demiéville’s pioneer attempts, the scholarly discussion of this theme in the West has continued unabated. In 1981, a conference devoted to dun 頓 and jian 漸 took place in Los Angelses, and six years later, contributions to that conference were published together with some additional papers in a volume entitled Sudden and Gradual. In the first part of that book, several authors explore the applicability of the sudden/gradual polarity to the study of religions beyond Chan, and in the third part something similar is attempted for Chinese poetry criticism and painting theory. The second and most voluminous part of the book, however, consists of narrow explorations of the concepts of dun 頓 and jian 漸 in the teachings of major figures of Chinese Buddhism such as Daosheng 道生, Zhiyi 智顗 Shenhui 神會, and Zongmi 宗密.

Both the book’s editor Gregory and its reviewer Griffith Foulk pointed out the great variety of different lexical meanings of dun 頓 and jian 漸 that are present in Sudden and Gradual in his stimulating review, Foulk stated that “it is dangerous to speak loosely of the sudden/gradual polarity or the subitist(sudden) position” because ‘historically, there were many different polarities and dichotomies, and many different subitist positions.’ If one wants to make the case for thematic similarities, historical connections, or semantic unity, Foulk contends, one must first make careful case studies such as the ones found in the second part of the book. In this way, one arrives at lexical definitions of the terms in question.

A very similar conclusion lies at the heart of a collection of essays by renowned scholars of mysticism. Most essays emphasize the need to see ‘mystical’ traditions in their cultural and doctrinal context. Indeed, ‘mysticism’ is a concept that in many ways resembles dun 頓, not least of all in the fate that is now unfolding as it begins to be ’discovered’ in various cultural and religious phenomena. ‘Mysticism’ has already been ‘discovered’ in all major religions, and many scholars argued(and continue to argue( that it is a world-wide religious phenomenon that exists apart from historical and cultural circumstances. The volume of essays edited by Steven Katz in primarily a reaction against this tendency ; its emphasis lies on the unique features of specific kinds of ‘mysticism’ and their deep cultural, historical, and doctrinal foundation. Without taking sides in this ongoing dispute, it needs to be said that the focus of proponents of ‘mystical relativism’ on specific objects of study is mostly informed by ideas about the nature of ‘mysticism’ that are every bit as hazy as those of proponents of ’mystical universalism’ The lack of a precise definition(or precise definitions) of mysticism drives a good part of these well-meant discussions around in circles. Futhermore, the lack of differentiation between different knds of definition leads many scholarly criticisms far away from their intended targets. Clarity about different kinds of definition con greatly help in understanding the studied phenomena and the scholarly literature about them.

Foulk’s review of Sudden and Gradual takes some authors to task for a lack of such clarity in criticizing Demiéville on lexical grounds where he aimed for a stipulative rather than a lexical definition.

Stipulative definitions function to establish the meaning of a symbol for use within a particular field of discourse, and thus in principle cannot be judged true or false on the basis of evidence of any sort. Because they are essentially arbitrary, stipulative definitions need not accord in any way with their lexical counterparts, but often they are used to eliminate ambiguity by giving priority to one of the established lexical meanings of a term.

In his article, Demiéville begins with a stipulative definition of a religious phenomenon and then looks among world religions for instances that fit the typology. The present paper stands in Demiéville’s tradition in that it, though referring to some Chinese texts, does not attempt to present new lexical definitions but rather aims at formulating a typology of dun 頓-and, as an extension of Demiéville’s ‘vagabond inquiry’, a typology of ‘mysticism’ in general. This kind of inquiry neither belongs to ‘mystical universalism’ nor to ‘mystical relativism’ but rather seeks to formulate some of the(mostly tacit) assumptions of both approaches through examination of some concrete examples.

To establish one(and certainly not the only!) possible typology of dun 頓, I will mainly use themes raised in two Chinese texts representative of the beginnings of Chan Buddhism: 1) the Chinese manuscript of the debates about dunwn 頓悟 that took place in late eighth-century Lhasa between Chinese and Indian teachers of Budd-hism:the Ratification of Immediate Awakening as the True Principle of the Great Vehicle 頓悟大乘正理決; and 2) the Vajrasamādhi Sūtra 金剛三昧經. a text of probable Korean origin that is cited several times in the Ratification and played an important role in the formation of Chan禪. As a Western point of reference, I chose the German treatises and sermons of Meister Eckhart. Since this audience is familiar with the Chinese materials, I will only briefly provide some background on Meister Eckhart before launching the typological adventure.

Meister Eckhart was born in 1260 in Thuringia, Germany. In his youth, he became a Dominican friar and quickly rose in the ranks of the Dominican order;at age thirty-four he was already general vicar of Thuringia. In 1300 he was sent to Paris for two years as lecture. On his return to Germany he was put in charge of all Dominican friars of Saxonia and later also of Bohemia. At the age of fifty he was called to teach in Paris for a second time(1311~1313), a rare honor shared only by Thomas Aquinas. On his return to Germany he was active both as head of the Dominican convent of Strasbourg and as the spiritual guide of the Dominican nunneries of Southern Germany. This region had a large number of nunneries;around 1300 there were already sixty-five of them. We can thus imagine that Eckhart must have been very busy preaching and giving spiritual guidance. Many of the Meister’s sermons were probably written down by nuns at these monasteries. In 1326, the Catholic church began inquisition proceedings against Meister Eckhart who appealed his case to the pope in 1327 but died soon afterwards. Some propositions of his doctrine were finally condemned by Pope John XXⅡ in 1329.

The work of Meister Eckhart is usually divided by language into a Latin and German part. Only some sections of Eckhart’s major work in Latin, the Opus tripartitum, are extant;they contain mainly a number of bible commentaries, sermons, lectures, and sermon drafts. Apart from the Opus tripartitum, only a few Latin lectures and sermons are extant. The works written in Latin were little known and read, as the scarcity of extant manuscripts shows, and the chronological sequence of these writings is often unclear because Eckhart was frequently revising his commentaries. The Latin work has been described as an impressive torso’ and has had little influence. However, it is important for the study of Eckhart’s thought.

In contrast, Eckhart’s German work consists of a corpus of over two hundred manuscripts;however, the authentic- ity of some of these manuscripts is questionable. These German materials are usually divided into treatises and sermons. Of the treatises, four are considered genuine. The best known part of Eckhart’s work are his German sermons. Most of these fifty-nine sermons have been transmitted in copies(and copies of copies) of notes taken by members of the audience. It appears that Eckhart authorized some of his sermons for reading during meals at Dominican nunneries, but such early editions have all been lost;the earliest extant manuscripts were edited around the middle of the fourteenth century and are full of sermon material from other, generally unidentified authors. The editors apparently had no intention of collecting Eckhart materials;rather, they produced anthologies of mystical sermons. So the majority of these German sermons were transmitted anonymously, and only centuries later did they come to be attributed to specific figures such as Meister Eckhart. The transmission of these sources thus shows, among other things, that Eckhart stands within a rather broad spiritual movement. An early 14th-century song that was transmitted anonymously may illustrate this climate and lead on to the promised typology of dun 頓:

The Desert, this good

has never been traversed by a foot,

and no created mind

has ever reached it.

It is, yet nobody knows what it is.

It is here, it is there,

it is far, it is near,

it is low, it is high;

it is such that it is

neither this nor that.

It is bright, it is clear

it is utterly obscure,

without name,


free of beginning and end.

Unmoved it stands,

naked and without dress:

who knows its place?

One who knows should come

and tell us what form it has.

Become like a child,

become deaf and blind!

Your own ‘I’

must be destroyed

Every ‘something’ and every ‘nothing’ must be lost!

Let go of space, let go of time,

get rid of any image!

Tread, without a way,

the narrow path:

then you will find the trace in the desert.

Oh my soul,

get out, God in!

My entire ‘something’ may sink

into God’s ‘nothing’.

sink in the groundless flood!

If I flee you

you come to me.

If I lose myself

I find you

oh good beyond any entity!

In this medieval German song we find some of the central themes of ‘mysticism’ in a nutshell―and a road- map to our typology of dun 頓. The song points to something formless 無相 and without boundary, something which is said to be both here and there, far and near, something that is ‘neither this nor that.’ This ‘something’ that in fact is no-thing(‘beyond any entity’) is portrayed as the goal of the religious path. Yet how is it to be attained if, as the song says, ‘no created mind has ever reached it?’ It can only be attained by treading a path without a way, by the destruction of the very seeking ‘I’ and the loss of ‘every thing(and even ‘every nothing’)’ that the seeker faces. Through this loss, a ‘good beyond any entity(uberweselîches gût)’ is found. The song thus portrays the religious quest in terms of an initial basic problem, a way to overcome this problem, and a goal.

Even staunch advocates of ‘mystical relativism’ will admit that this song exhibits elements that are strikingly similar to formulations found in other religious movements around the globe that are usually labeled ‘mystical.’ however, instead of throwing everything into pairs of boxes (for example one labeled ‘mystic’ and the other ‘non-mystic’, or one called ‘sudden’ and the other ‘gradual’) it may be more helpful to think of diverse religious phenomena on a continuous scale with multiple layers or dimensions for a variety of topics. What this paper is concerned with is a portrayal of one extreme on such a sliding scale, namely, the dun 頓 extreme. It will be seen that this term is more apt than ‘mysticism’ or similar concepts to convey various layers or dimensions of such religious movements. No claim is made to comprehensively portray the sources and their religious background;the typological thrust of this paper demands not a photographic but rather a phantom-image which emphasizes certain important characteristics while ignoring many others.


The modern German philosopher Helmuth Plessner characterized the specific mode of being of the human person by three main concepts:‘natural artificiality’, ‘mediated immediacy’, and ‘groundless rootedness.’ All three express what Plessner called the ‘unsolvable contradiction’ or the ‘absolute antinomy’ of being human which religion attempts to overcome. ‘Mediated immediacy(vermittelte Unmittelbarkeit)’ signifies that man is characterized simultaneously by an inside and outside position, seen for example in man’s particular relationship with his body(I am my body yet I am also able to observe it and am thus different from it( or his self-consciousness(I am aware of being aware). While the ‘inside’ position shows man’s immediate self-identity, the ‘outside’ position shows that such self-identity(unlike that of plants or animals)is paradoxically established through a distance from oneself and an act of inherent mediation. This ‘mediated immediacy’ is exemplified by the injunction written on ancient Greek temples, ‘Know thyself.’ Being both the subject and the object of knowing, man is conscious of himself;and just this quality has been called man’s essential characteristic by philosophers such as Kant, Hegel, and Schopenhauer. Hegel indicated the broader implications of knowing oneself:

Knowledge of mind(Geist) is the most concrete and thus highest and most difficult knowledge. Know thyself:this absolute injunction does not, in itself or historically, lnly imply knowing one’s particular abilities, character, tendencies or weaknesses;rather, it signifies knowledge of the truth of man and also knowledge of truth in and for itself-the essence(Wesen) itself as mind.

Schopenhauer strongly rejected Hegel’s assumption that philosophy can reach such ‘knowledge of essence’―or, in terms of this paper, immediate knowledge. He realized that philosophy is essentially bound to objective and therefore mediated knowledge and can never breach the subject- object barrier. At its peak, Schopenhauer contended, philosophy can only say that man’s highest knowledge knows ‘nothing that we know.’ The mystic, on the other hand, who in immediate realization has reached this highest knowledge, can speak in positive terms of what he found. Contrasting this with religious tendencies subsumed under the label ‘theism’, Schopenhauer describes mysticism as follows:

Theism, designed for the capacity of the crowd, posits the ultimate source of our being outside of ourselves, as an object;all mysticism, Sufism included, gradually finds it again in various stages of initiation inside, in ourselves, as the subject, and the adept finally realizes in wonder and joy that he is himself this ultimate source. This process, common to all forms of mysticism, is found in Meister Eckhart, the father of German mysticism, expressed in form of an injunction to the perfect adept to not seek God outside of himself’, and it is again very naively portrayed in Eckhart’s spiritual daughter who after her breakthrough told Eckhart in jubilation:“Master, share my joy:I have become God!”

Schopenhauer thus distinguishes between religious tendencies that focus more on otherness and mediation and tendencies that stress immediacy ; and this immediacy peaks in the realization that the ultimate is not different from the seeker.

1) Deluded Conceptions

What the German song cited above calls ‘created mind’, we may infer, is the mind(subject) that faces all kinds of objects. Objects of the mind are, in the song’s terminology, a ‘this’ or a ‘that’, ‘high’ or ‘low’, ‘far’ or ‘near’, ‘ere’ or ‘there.’ Such objects are seen as such precisely because of a gulf separating the seer from the seen, the mind from its objects, the subject from the object.

However, it is a common feature of movements called ‘mystical’ to regard this state of affairs as the basic human problem. The solution, they aver, consists in finding just that which is neither ‘this’ nor ‘that’ and thus can never be attained through mediation, i.e.;the immediate(dun 頓). Some major Christian mystics(Dionysius Areopagita, Meister Eckhart, Nicolaus of Cusa) have aptly called this the non-other(non-aliud), while in the Chan tradition we find such expressions as ‘no-mind 無心’ or ‘not anything 無一物.’ We will see later how the ‘immediate’ in this sense relates to ‘mediation’ both in an ontological and soteriological sense.

The manuscript known by the title of Ratification of Immediate Awakening [dunwu] as the True Principle of the Great Vehicle 頓悟大乘正理決 which Paul Pelliot recovered from the caves of Dunhuang and which is labeled with the number 4646 is an interesting source for the study of dun 頓. However one chooses to translate this title, it suggests that dunwu頓悟(‘immediate awakening’) is the essence of the Great Vehicle[of Buddhism]. In the view of the protagonists of this text, the disease that requires the cure that Buddhism proposes is repeatedly described as ‘deluded conceptions妄想’, and the raison d’être and essence of Buddhism is seen in ‘getting rid of all deluded con- ceptions and impregnations離一切妄想習氣(folio 129a5).’ The Chinese protagonist of the Ratification, a monk called Moheyan 摩訶衍, provides the following diagnosis:

Living beings are swept along in the course of life-and-death and cannot extricate themselves because they have since innumerable time periods been unable to free themselves of the triple poison of passions [i.e., the basic attachments of greed, hatred, and error] and the deluded conceptions which their mind has from the outset been impregnated with.(folio 129b4-5)

In support of this diagnosis, he adduces a scripture that states:

A man is called ‘one who has reached it’ on account of having eliminated all objects(dhama 法), AS they are objectified phenomena of his mind which cannot be grasped.(folio 129b6)

It must be emphasized that the diagnosis given in the Ratification is not limited to any particular group of persons but rather applies to any person, regardless of time or place:‘All beings have throughout been bound by the impregnations of deluded conceptions due to the triple poison of passions(folio 146b2-3).’ The role of Buddhism is thus seen in terms of getting rid of an affliction from which every sentient being suffers. ‘The one thing that matters’, states the Chinese representative, ‘is to get rid of these deluded conceptions(folio 133b5).’ To the question what he means by ‘conceptions 想’ he replied:‘A conception is present when the mind’s thoughts get moving and take hold of external objects 想者心念起動及取外境(folio 133b6).’ The problem, as defined in these and other passages, must thus be seen in the context of duality, the basic subject-object rift that characterizes ordinary human existence and all its manifestations. ‘Thoughts’ or ‘deluded conceptions’ refer in this connection to ‘dualistic thought.’ In contrast, no-though is pointed at in a quote from the Lankavatara Sūtra:

The gate of genuine truth is far from the duality of the appropriating [subject] and the appropriated [object].(folio 131[bis] b1)

The twoness or duality of a subject standing against objects, appropriating them in discriminating thought and action, and getting caught up with and attached to them, is the opposite of what one would call ‘immediacy.’ The latter, portrayed as ‘this principle of it-is-as-it-is’ that contains all objects 此如如之理具一切’, is reached only through the definitive suppression of all deluded conceptions and passions(folio 130a1-2). D.T.Suzuki formulated this diagnosis in a more modern but essentially congruent way:

According to Buddhism, the antithesis of ‘A’ and ‘not-A’ is at the bottom of our ignorance as to the ultimate truth of existence, and this antithesis is discrimination. To discriminate is to be involved in the whirlpool of birth and death, and as long as we are thus involved, there is no emancipation, no attainment of Nirvana, no realization of Buddhahood.

Meister Eckhart, to whom we shall now turn, also keeps emphasizing that the problem he describes is not one that some people have and others not, depending on their culture, education, or religious faith. Rather, the very fact of being a person entails a ‘wrong relation to things’:

We may think that man should flee this and seek that, for example these places and these people and these methods or this amount or this activity―but it is not these ways or these things that hinder you:rather, what hinders you in things is you yourself, since it is you who are in a wrong relation to things.

In a sermon, he puts this concisely:‘We are the cause of all our obstacles(Sermon 5, 177).’ But what is at the root ot this?

People ask what it is that burns in hell. In general, the masters say that what burns is self-will. But say, according to truth, that it is the ‘not’ that burns in hell(Serman 6, 179).

In the same sermon, he explains:“You are imperfect to the degree that you are affected by the ‘not.’ Thus, if you want to be perfect, you have to be free of the ‘not’(sermon 6, 179).” Eckhart explains this ‘not’ in a manner reminiscent of D.T.Suzuki’s statement cited above: “All creatures carry a negation in themselves;one denies being the other(Sermon 22, 253).” It is exactly this ‘not’ which forms the root of all twoness and discrimination and thus of man’s suffering:

Where there are two, there is lack. Why? Because one is not the other;this ‘not’ which creates differentiation is nothing other than bitterness-just as no peace is present there(Sermon 50, 389).

The realm of ‘being this and that’ where there is temporal and spatial limitation(Sermon 12, 209) is full of restlessness and suffering;it is the realm of ‘twoness’, ‘manyness’ and ‘mediation’ where the soul greedily grasps and number of objects and in so doing ends up losing them. Even the concept of sin which is of such importance in Christianity is interpreted by Eckhart in this manner‘Sin is always a regress from oneness to multiplicity.’

Of course, in man’s mediated immediacy, man not only attempts to appropriate outside objects;rather, his very structure implies that he also is an object to himself. After analysing man’s ordinary perception of objects as a mediated subject-object relationship which relies on representations, Eckhart says the following about the impossibility of man to know himself as a subject(rather than just as one more object):

If man receives an image or representation is this [mediated] way, it must of necessity enter from without through the sense. In consequence, there is nothing so unknown to the soul 心 as herself. Accordingly, one master says that the soul can neither created nor obtain a representation of itself. Thus she has no way of knowing herself, for representations all enter through the senses, and hence she can have no representation of herself. Therefore she knows all other things but not herself. Of nothing does she know s little as of herself―just because of lacking mediation. You must know that inwardly the soul is free and void of all mediations and representations, and just this is the reason why God can freely and without representation or likeness unite with her(Sermon 57, 417-418).

Yet it is just man’s urge and need to know himself that forms one of the major themes of religion in general; and teachings of ‘mystical’ bent tend to emphasize the immediate nature of this quest and its goal. The tenor of such teachings is voiced by the Japanese Zen master Dôgen:

To learn the way of the Buddha is to learn the self. To learn the self is to forget the self. To forget the self is to be authenticated by all things. To be authenticated by all things is to be free of ‘self’ and ‘other.’

Eckhart coaches this in the words of the New Testament:

The Lord said, “Whoever wants to become my disciple must first let himself go(Lucas 9,23)”. Nobody can hear my word and my teaching unless he has let himself go(Sermon 11, 207).

2) I and Not-I

The Ratification sums up its diagnosis by stating that ‘the triple poison of passions, suffering, and deluded thoughts all originate as transformations from the particularisation of reflective thought(folio 146b2-3).’ The most basic differentiation is the discrimination 分別―based on man’s self-conscious nature―of myself(I) from thing that are different from me(not-I). Man’s most immediate and basic differentiation found many expressions in religious literature, for example in the Bible’s story of man’s fall. It is thus not surprising that ‘mystical’ religious movements focus with great insistence on this differentiation;the Ratification, for instance, says that “those who get attached to words instead of getting to the bottom of ‘I’ and ‘not-I’ drown in duality and ruin themselves and others(folio 142b6)”, and the German classic Theologia Deutsch states:

I-ness, self-ness, mine, me etc. all pertain to the evil spirit, and the spirit is evil because of that. Look, the following few words say it all: Be pure and entirely without your self!

Similarly, Eckhart says:“If we were free of the ‘not’ we would not be impure(Sermon 5, 176).” But what does such freedom of the ‘not’ mean in terms of ‘I’ and ‘not-I’?

I say something else and even more difficult:Whoever wants to immediately(unmittelbar) stand in the nakedness of this nature[which is one and one-fold] must have left behind all distinction of person so that he is as well disposed to a man across the sea whom he has never set eyes on as to the man who is with him and is his close fried. As long as you favor your own person more than someone you have never seen, you are assuredly not alright, and you have never for a single instant looked into this one-fold ground.[…] And secondly, you must be pure in heart;since only that heart is pure that has abolished all created objecthood. And third you must be free of the ‘not.’[…] I say truly:you are imperfect in so far as ‘not’ adheres to you. Therefore, if you want to be perfect, you must be rid of ‘not’(Sermon 6, 179).

As long as ’one is not the other’, Eckhart says, there is lack and therefore bitterness and unrest(Sermon 50, 389), and the major hindrances that he identifies as ‘self- attachment and ignorance(Sermon1, 156)’ are all based on a ‘this’ which is not ‘that’, a ‘subject’ that is not ‘object’, an ‘I’ set apart from ‘not-I’.

Many teachers consider man’s basic I/not-I discrimi- nation to be the most fundamental source of ignorance and suffering. I will just cite two instances, the first by the Japanese Zen master Bankei(1622~1693) and the second by the modern Indian master Ramana Maharshi:

Your self-partiality is at the root of all your illusions. There aren’t and illusions when you don’t have this preference for yourself.

You see, he who eliminates all the ‘not-I’ cannot eliminate the ‘I.’ In order to be able to say ‘I am not this’ or ‘I am that’, there must be the ‘I’ to say it. This ‘I’ is only the ego, or the ‘I’-thought. After the rising up of this ‘I’-thought, all other thoughts arise. The ‘I’-thought is therefore the root thought. If the root is pulled out, all the rest is at the same time uprooted. Therefore seek the root ‘I’ ; question yourself:‘Who am I?’;find out the source of the ‘I.’[…] Ignorance is the obstruction. Get rid of it and all will be well. This ignorance is identical with the ‘I’-thought. Seek its sources, and it will vanish.

In similar manner, the Granum sinapis song cited above says that “your ‘I’ must be destroyed, every ‘something’ and every ‘nothing’ lost” in order to find that ‘good beyond and entity.’ Echart has the following to say about this theme:

What hinders you in things is you yourself, since it is you who are in a wrong relation to things. Therefore begin with yourself and let yourself go! Truly, if you do not flee yourself, wherever you flee, you will only find hindrance and unrest. People who seek peace in outer things―be it in places or in methods, in people or in works, in banishment, poverty, or humiliation―however impressive this may be and whatever it may be, it all counts for nothing and brings no peace. Those who seek in this way seek wrongly;the further They go on, the less they find what they are looking for. They seek like one who has lost his way:the further he goes, the more he goes astray. But what should he do? He should first let go of himself:then he has let go of everything. In truth, if a man gave up a kingdom or the entire world but kept clinging to himself, he would have abandoned nothing. But if man lets go of himself, then he has let go of everything (Reden der Unterweisung, 55-56).

This theme of ‘letting go’ is central in Eckhart. But how does one go about ‘letting go?’ Eckhart’s words echo Dôgen and Ramana Maharshi:

Observe yourself, and where you find yourself, let go of yourself. That is the very best.


The overall nature and role of religion is addressed when it is portrayed as a ‘vehicle’ or ‘medium’ that leads an adherent from one state to another:from deluded conceptions to awakened truth, from attachment to freedom, from suffering to bliss, from twoness to not-twoness, etc. At the outset of the Ratification, the Indian side asks:“What do you mean by ‘Great Vehicle’?” The Chinese answer is typical for religious movements that emphasize immediacy:

There is neither a vehicle nor anything that is carried;

It is the non-institution of any vehicle

That I call Great Vehicle(folio 129b1).

In another answer, the Chinese respondent cites ‘non-practice is the practice of all practices(folio 131 [bis] b4).’ The Ratification shows a pattern of such paradoxical answers that in effect state that only the resolution itself is true practice, i.e., that the only possible way or method is the absence of any way or mediation(immediacy). Any mediation or gradual approach is thus judged, from the standpoint of resolution, as still being thoroughly in the realm of deluded conceptions. For example, the Indian challenge that the buddhas teach gradual 漸門 rather than immediate access 頓門 is without delay refuted by the argument that concepts such as ‘gradual’ and ‘immediate’ belong to the realm of deluded conceptions and thus constitute the problem rather than the resolution(folio 132b-133b). Again, when the Indian side asserts that for beginning practitioners, conceptions 想 may be necessary and beneficial, the Chinese side emphasizes that just these dualistic conceptions are the problem and that their very elimination is the resolution(folio 134b-135a). But by what means can one rid oneself of deluded conceptions and attachment to objects, asks the Indian side? The answer again fits the pattern:

As long as deluded conceptions arise, one is not awakened and remains in what is called ‘life-and-death.’ When one is awakened, one no more produces acts bound to deluded notions or appropriates objects, and one does not hold on to or rely [on anything]. Then every thought is ultimate liberation and wisdom(Folio 135b3-5).

This pattern is also apparent in answers to questions concerning concrete practices;thus the answer to the question about the meaning of ‘contemplating mind’ 看心 ends with a quote from the Vimalakīrti Sūtra:‘Non- contemplation is ultimate wisdom 不觀是菩提.’ Questions about practices leading to liberation are answered in similar manner by ‘what matters is being free.’ In short, any striving towards a goal is seen as simply one more expression of the problem:only in the realm of duality and discrimination is mediation and practice necessary, and such mediation is itself an expression of the problem, Only the thorough cutting off of all deluded conceptions(and thus of all mediation and striving) can be the resolution.

A Similar stance is apparent in many texts of the Chan tradition, for example in the following story about Master Shitou 石頭:

When Chan Master Yaoshan Weiyan 藥山 first visited Shitou 石頭, he asked:“I have a superficial knowledge of the Three[Buddhist] Vehicles’ twelve divisions of teachings. Now I keep hearing of southern [Chan’s characterization as] ‘directly pointing to man’s heart.’ This is something I really haven’t yet understood, and I humbly request your compassionate instruction.”

Shitou said:“This way will not do, and any other way will not do either.

No way, neither this way nor any other way will do. What do you do?”

The first part of Shitou’s answer presents in a nutshell what the Chinese side in Lhasa reiterated in various forms:any particular way(including dun 頓 or jian 漸) will not do. Yet the Lhasa discussions also testify to the conviction that indeed, as Mazu challenges his audience, something must be done. To sum up the present argument in the words of a modern Zen thinker.

The basic method of zen Buddhism tries to get the ego to realize that ultimately there can be no method for it to attain to its True-Self-Awakening apart from the awakening itself. For if there is any ‘method’ that the ego can pursue or cling to, that method contributes to the perpetuation of the ego, and thereby becomes an obstacle to―or even worse, leads away from―the goal. So, Huang-po 黃檗 reprimanded:“As long as you are concerned with ‘by means of’ you will always be depending on false media.” Hence it is that the root Zen method is, finally, a method which would strip away every method, and which itself provides no ‘method.’

Such radicality is perhaps an extreme ‘immediate’ type rarely found in reality;in the Ratification, for example, Moheyan 摩訶衍 contradicts his own radical statements with apparent ease, particularly in the third memorial(folio 155a-b) and the summary at the end of the document(folio 156a-158a). Though his openly ‘gradual’ statements partially fall under the cover of expedient means 方便 and the Two truths 二諦說(as expressions of a verity that is only employed to help the deluded and are ostensibly motivated by the urge not to frighten a sovereign interested in good deeds, loyalty, etc., some contradictions cannot be denied. A similar tendency is also present in Meiter Eckhart. Some of his radical statements match those of some Chan masters, but the materials transmitted as Eckhart’s also contain passages of much more conventional Christian flavor which emphasize prayer and other practices promoted by the Catholic church. However, since this paper neither aims at a comprehensive portrayal of Eckhart’s teaching nor at a comparison of Eckhart with Chan, I will continue to concentrate on the ‘immediate’ and radical side that is present both in Eckhart and the cited Chinese texts.

According to Eckhart, God cannot be found in distinction and twoness, and no way or medium can ‘lead towards’ that which is not-other. “Whoever seeks God in a certain way takes the way and misses god who is hidden in the way(sermon 6, 180).” Consequently, only “one who seeks God without way[…] grasps him as he is in himself (Sermon 6, p. 180).” But to grasp God without way or manner is altogether beyond the ability of an ‘I’ that is seeking ‘God’ Saint Paul says:

“God dwells in and inhabits a light to which there is no access(1 Tim6, 16).” To that [light] there is no access, there is only reaching. Moses says, “Never a man saw God(2 Mos 33, 20).” As long as we are human beings, as long as something human lives in us and we are in an approach, we will not see God(Sermon 53, p. 402).

The Granum sinapis song makes a similar point:

Your own ‘I’ must be destroyed

every something and every ‘nothing’ must be lost!

Let go of space, let go of time,

get rid of any image!

Tread, without a way, the narrow path:

then you will find the trace in the desert.

1) Letting Go

the destruction of the subject ‘I’―and with it of every object ‘something’―that the song demands points to some important dimensions of dun 頓:the resolution cannot be achieved through any mediation and is thus ‘immediate.’ Furthermore, whatever may precede this breakthrough, it happens in a radical and ‘sudden’ falling away of the very basis of mediation:the opposition of ‘I’ and ‘not-I’ or subject and object. In this radical letting-go, all is let go ‘at once’, comprehensively(at one stroke), and ‘simultane- ously’;this release, just like death, is ‘abrupt’ total(all at once), and irreversible(once and for all)―and we will see below that what opens up or is born in this breakthrough is nothing ‘other’ but the ‘immediate’ par excellence, or in the words of Nicolaus of Cusa, ‘nothing other than the not-other.’

Though the Ratification mentions various practices such as ‘watching the mind while abstaining from all examination when thoughts arise and even from reflexion about reflexion(folio 156a5).’ it is adamant that there is only one way to cure man’s disease:‘just get rid of deluded conceptions and[…] you will be able to free yourself at once and totally(folio 146b4-5).’ In this, supreme wisdom is realized(folio 141a3-6), i.e.:“one realizes that all aggregates are without ‘I’” and that signifies the “absolute destruction of any view(folio 141b3).” Since views are by definition dualistic, the “absolute destruction of all views” is synonymous with the thorough overcoming of man’s characteristic subject-objecthood:“The practice of dhyana 禪 takes place when not the slightest object can be grasped(folio 145a1-2).”

The Vajrasamādhi Sūtra 金剛三昧經, though ostensibly focusing on a variety of practices, also has a strong ‘immediate’ character and sees the essence of the religious path in similar terms:

To the extent that one abandons mind and self

The One Teaching is consummated,

and one’s actions pervade identity and difference.

Once the original inspiration is gained

And dualistic views extirpated,

Nirvana which is calm and tranquil

Is also neither lingered tin, nor clung to, nor authenticated.

To access that place of certitude,

There are neither forms nor practices.

In writings of ‘immediate’ tendency, the image of death is much used for this thorough ‘abandonment of mind and self.’ In Chan texts, for example, we find the expression ‘Great Death 大死.’ This image conveys not only the total(all at once) and irreversible(once and for all) nature of letting go but also its abrupt(sudden) and ultimately personal(immediate) character. Both in East and West, this death of the ‘I’ is usually paired with some sort of birth;for example, one of German mysticism’s major figures influenced by Eckhart, Johannes Tauler, said:‘Dear child, you must die of the loving God should become your life without medium. Eckhart portrays the overcoming of duality in the following terms:

One must be dead, thoroughly dead, so that neither joy nor sorrow can touch us. […] Life, too, can never be perfected until it returns to its pregnant source where life is a being that the soul receives when she thoroughly dies, that we may live in that life wherein life is one being(Sermon 9, 193).

We will come back to the ‘positive’ aspect of breakthrough and the meaning of Eckhart’s ‘life is one being’ after some more detail about his view of ‘letting go.’ Letting go of self and all things is of supreme importance in Eckhart’s teaching. He emphasizes:“What must the man be like who sees God? He must be dead.” One who is “dead to self and all created things pays as little regard to himself as to one who is a thousand miles away,[…] This man must have abandoned self and the whole world(Sermon 13, 216).” He leaves no doubt as to the total nature of this letting go:“You have to let yourself go, I say, completely go, then you have truly let go(Sermon 31, p.300).” The result of such total self-abandon is what Eckhart calls ‘Gelassenheit’ a key concept in his works. In a passage where ‘to let go(lassen)’, ‘to be at ease’ or ‘to be released(gelassen go:“You have to let yourself go, I say, completely go, then you have truly let go(Sermon 31, 300)”, The result of such total self-abandon is what Eckhart calls ‘Gelassenheit’, a key concept in his works. In a passage where ‘to let go(lassen)’, ‘to be at ease’ or ‘to be released(gelassen sein)’ and ‘having abandoned(gelassen haben)’ are intertwined, Eckhart explains it in terms that again evoke some connotations of dun 頓:

To a man who lets go of himself totally for a single instant, all is given. But if a man had abandoned self for twenty years, if he took back self for a single instant, he has never truly let go. That man who has let go and is at ease who never even for an instant looks back at what he has let go, and who remains firm, unmoved in himself, and unchange- able:that man alone is ‘gelassen’(Sermon 13, 217).

2) Breakthrough

No image is more apt to depict the nature of breakthrough than of death-and-birth. It underlines its total and irreversible nature as well as its sudden and immediate character. Nothing ‘other’ is at stake here but the most immediate there is, one’s very ‘I’ what dies is that source of deluded conceptions, the ‘I’ that clings to itself and to objects―and what is born is the ‘true I’ or ‘true self’ that the Vajrasamādhi Sūtra calls the ‘true I’ that is no-‘I’ 非我眞我. It is characteristic of ‘immediate’ teachings that something like this is realized in an abrupt breakthrough or leap by which a new, non-dual view of reality opens up. From this perspective it becomes clear that ‘reality’ was indeed only delusion, and that the reality one has awakened to has been there all along. In the Ratificatin this reality is called ‘Buddha nature 佛性(folio 142a3-4)’, in the Vajrasamādhi Sūtra ‘womb of the Thus- Come 如來藏’ or ‘amala consciousness 庵摩羅識’ in Huangbo 黃檗 ‘one mind 一心’ and in Eckhart, as we will soon see, ‘the spark’.

The immediate nature and continuous presence of this reality is emphasized in various ways, for example by the image of the sun which has been shining all along, even while hidden behind the clouds of delusion(folio 142a3-4), or by the image of a gem one unknowingly owned all along, hidden in a dirty cloth. One just needs to ‘take off the stained dress of impregnations of deluded conceptions’ in order to achieve liberation and see that the gem has been there all along(folio 144b5). This reality is regarded as one’s most immediate and true nature which is beyond any objectification and mediacy;thus there can neither be access to it nor departure from it.

Although all sentient beings are originally free from the outflows, and all wholesome benefits are originally innate in them, they are being pricked by the thorn of desire, which they have yet to overcome[and thus do not realize that they are originally enlightened].

Oh son of good family! It is just the same with the amala-consciousness. It originally is not something from which you have departed. It is not something that has now been accessed. Even though in the past you were unaware of it, it was not nonexistent. Even though now you have awakened to it, it is not accessed.

This sudden realization is often portrayed in terms of a breakthrough or overturning:‘Overturning both the appro- priated [object] and the appropriating [subject], one accesses the womb of the Thus-Come.’ Through this ‘access via non-access’, one realizes that ‘there are neither self nor objects-of-self and neither subject nor object views’―rather, ‘mind and objects are not-two.’ What appears like the sun from behind the clouds is that which is ‘neither unitary nor different, neither unitary evanescent nor permanent, neither produced nor extinguished.’

The innermost and most noble faculty of the human soul which Eckhart calls ‘spark’, ‘castle’, etc.―‘the ground where God lies hidden’-is characterized in similar terms. In he sermon ‘Intravit Jesus’, Eckhart explains this power of the soul in the following way:

I have sometimes said that there is a power in the mind which is alone free. Sometimes I have called it a guard of the mind;sometimes a light of the mind;sometimes a spark. But now I say:It is neither this nor that, and yet it is a something which is higher above ‘this’ and ‘that’ than the sky is above the earth. Thus I shall now name it in a nobler fashion than I ever did before, even though it beggars both such nobleness and any mode and transcends them. It is free of all names and void of all forms, entirely bare and free, just as God is bare and free in himself. It is so completely one and onefold as God is one and onefold, so that in no way one can peer into it(Sermon 2, 163).

Though it is hidden and man is still ‘not at home’ in the innermost part of his soul(Sermon 4, 170)’, this spark appears as One-‘so akin to God that it is a unitary One without differentiation(Sermon 23, 258)’, above time and space, and uncreated. Thus Eckhart says:‘If man were wholly of his [the spark’s] kind, he would be completely uncreated and impossible to create(Sermon 13, 215).’ This spark ‘is the seed of God in us.’ Just as with the proper care ‘the seed of the pear tree grows into a pear tree and the seed of a walnut tree into a walnut tree’, so ‘God’s seed [grows] into God.’ Even though this seed is ‘covered, hidden and concealed’, it is in every human being and ‘can never be destroyed nor extinguished in itself.’ Its discovery is not causally linked to long periods of practice but can take place immediately:

None of you is so dull or small of capacity or far from it that he could not find this joy […] in himself as it truly is, even before he leaves this church today, yes, even before I finish my sermon;you can find it in yourself and live it and have it as certain as God is God and I am a human being(Sermon 27, 275-6).

It is characteristic of ‘immediate’ teachings that ‘birth’ or ‘awakening’ or ‘breakthrough’ do not aim at something ‘other’ that can and must be the object of mediation.

People often say to me:‘Pray for me!’ Then I think:Why do you go outside? Why don’t you stay in yourself and grasp your own good? You do carry all truth essentially in yourself(Sermon 6, 181).

If the soul were totally stripped or uncovered of all mediation, then God too would be stripped or uncovered for it, and God would give himself to it totally(Sermon 40, 344).

What is thus without mediation is ‘the one-fold One without manner or characteristics 相(Sermon 2, 164)’ that encompasses everything yet is nothing other than one’s very self. Thus, rather than signifying an arrival at some remote destination, the breakthrough or birth is a home-coming.

Eckhart contrasts such a home-coming with two other ‘ways’:

One way is to seek God in all creatures through manifold activities and ardent longing. […] The second is a wayless way, free and yet bound, where one is raised past self and all things and rapt, without will and images, but still without essential permanence.[…] The third way is called a way, but is really being at home, that is:seeing God without means in his own being. […] Outside of this way all creatures circle, and are means. […] How marvelous:to be without and within, to embrace and be embraced, to see and be that which is seen, to hold and be held―that is the goal where the spirit is ever at rest, one in joyous eternity (Sermon 28;284-5).

This birth is the apex of immediacy:‘The soul gives birth to itself within itself and from itself, and again into itself(Sermon 52, 300).’ It only takes place in true spiritual poverty where there is no wanting, no knowing, and no having whatsoever.

If you want to find this noble birth, you have to let go of all ‘multiplicity’ and return to the origin and the ground out of which you came. All powers of the soul and all its works:all that is ‘multiplicity’. Memory, reason, will:they all make you manifold. Therefore you have to let them all go. … only then can you find this birth, and not otherwise:that is completely certain(Sermon 59, 432).

But true spiritual poverty is not just abandonment of self;it must also include abandonment of ‘God’ as some entity that is ‘other’ and that can be mediated. What is broken through is the ‘not’ that Eckhart pointed out as the source of man’s troubles;the resulting oneness is thus called ‘a negation of negation(Sermon 22, 253).’ When this occurs in existential actuality and not just in speculation, the ‘true poverty’ of the ‘man without station’ is realized:

In my breaking-through, where I stand free of my own will, of God’s will, of all his works, and of God himself: there I am beyond all creatures and am neither God nor creature. Rather, I am that which I was and shall remain now and for evermore. […] This breaking-through brings about that God and I are one. There I am what I was, there I neither wax nor wane, for there I am an unmoved cause that moves all things. Here, god finds no station in man, for man wins by this poverty what he has eternally been and shall eternally remain. Here, God is one with the spirit 心, and this is the strictest poverty one can find. If anyone cannot understand this sermon, he need not worry. For so long as man is not equal to this truth, he cannot understand my words;for this is the undisguised truth which has come without medium from God’s heart(Sermon 32, 308).


The religious quest that was outlined by Eckhart and many other teachers of ‘immediate’ tendency, leads ‘from a life that is divided to a life that is one(sermon 9, 194).’ Oneness in this sense is not simply opposed to multiplicity or twoness;rather, any form of twoness or separation (including that between oneness and twoness or multiplic- ity) must be overcome; only then is true immediacy realized. Often, portrayals of such oneness, non- delimitation, or ‘not-twoness’ 不二 take a dialectical form and are expressed in apophatic(neither this nor that) or paradoxical terms. The great Sufi teacher Ibn al-’Arabi (1165~1240), for example, stated:

God possesses Non-delimited Being, but no delimitation prevents Him from delimitation. On the contrary, he possesses all delimitations. Hence He is Non-delimited Delimitation.

Non-delimitation that possesses all delimitations, or unity that engenders all multiplicity, or an absolute principle that contains all separate objects all exemplify a sort of not-twoness that in mystical literature is often called ‘coincidentia oppositorum’:the immediate and non- mediatable coincidence(or not-twoness) of opposites.

Because the soul does not possess the One, it never comes to rest until everything becomes one in God. God is one;this is the bliss of the soul and its embellishment and its rest. Some master says that God keeps in all his works all things in consideration. The soul is all things. […] God is everything and one(Sermon 22, 255).

1) Not-Twoness

In contrast to forms of religion that emphasize mediation(such as the saving power of some figure, text, practice, or ritual) and thus presuppose sharp differentia- tions and twoness or multiplicity, religions of ‘mystical’ type stress immediate non-dual self-realization. The Vajrasamādhi Sūtra states that the ‘access of principle 理入’ consists in ‘having deep faith that sentient beings are not different from true nature, and thus are neither identical nor counterpoised.’ this expression exemplifies and important aspect of not-twoness or non-duality:it is not just a unity or oneness because that would again stand against multiplicity or duality. Thus the sutra does not simply equate sentient beings with Buddha-nature but says:“Sentient beings and buddha-nature are neither one nor different.” The core of the Buddha’s teaching is portrayed in terms that would also fit other ‘immediate’ forms of religion:

This [teaching expounded by the Buddha] thus leaves behind all duality;but it does not persist either in lingering in oneness.

This statement could serve as an expression of the essence of many sutras, for example the Vimalakīrti Sūtra 維摩經. The Ratification, too, presents non-duality as the essence of Master Moheyan’s 摩訶衍 teaching:“I have come to the court in order to promote and glorify the True Dharma and―though converting by recourse to the three vehicles―to bring people back to the gate of non-duality (folio 143a2-3).”

Oneness, twoness, and the not-twoness of two appear to be the central themes of ‘immediate’ forms of religion such as Meister Eckhart’s teaching. Indeed, like some other famous mystics, he was condemned by organized religion for transgressing the boundaries of difference that their mediation role necessitates. How could the Catholic church, whose foundation is built on the pervasive difference between man and God, not be critical of statements such as the following?

One has to know him [God] without image, immediately and without simile, But if I should know God in such an immediate way, I have to become absolutely him, and he must become I. More precisely, I say:God must become positively I, and I absolutely God;so completely one that this ‘he’ and this ‘I’ become and are one and work in this existence eternally one work. so long as this ‘he’ and this ‘I’ that is, God and the soul 心, are not a single ‘here’ and a single ‘now’ the ‘I’ can never work with the ‘he’ nor become one(Sermon 42, p.354).

The themes of oneness, twoness, and the not-twoness of two form the basis, for example, of Eckhart’s conception of ‘breakthrough to the God-head’ and ‘being’ or ‘one- ness’. These key concepts all aim at a philosophical exposition of non-duality or, as Eckhart calls it, ‘oneness’ ‘the one as non-distinction’ or ‘immediacy’. In a sermon he describes immediate or non-dual knowledge as follows:

That person is two because he does not see God immediately. His knowing and his being, or:his knowing [Erkennen, noesis] and the known-image [Erkenntnisbild, noema] never get to be one. One sees God only when he is seen spiritually, totally imageless. There one becomes two, two is one(Sermon 28, 283).

Eckhart went to great lengths to make people understand that oneness refers not to a simple equality or identity but rather to a dynamic non-duality. In the following passage from one of his sermons, he portrays a man who has broken through to true poverty:

So then we say that a man should be so poor that he neither is nor has any place for God to work in. Where man maintains some station, he maintains distinction. Therefore I pray to God to make me free of God, for my essential being is above God if we take God as the origin of creatures. For in that essence of God where God is above any being and above all distinction:there I was myself, there I willed myself and knew myself so as to create this man. Therefore I am my own cause according to my essence, which is eternal, and not according to my becoming, which is temporal. therefore I am unborn, and according to my unborn mode I can never die. According to my unborn mode I have eternally been, am now, and shall eternally remain. That which I am by virtue of birth must die and perish, for it is mortal, and so it must perish with time. In my birth all things were born, and I was the cause of myself and all things ; and had I so willed it, neither I nor all things would have been. If I were not, God would not be either. I am the cause of God’s being God. But you do not need to know this(Sermon 32,n 308).

In true poverty, all distinction is thus broken through―including that between difference and non-difference. In Eckhart’s words:“Oneness is difference, and difference is oneness. The more there is difference, the more there is oneness:just that is the difference without difference (Sermon 11, 206).” this ‘difference without difference’ or ‘twoness without twoness’ is expressed in statements such as ‘the eye wherein I see God is the same eye wherein God sees me ; my eye and God’s eye:they are one eye and one seeing, one recognizing and one loving(Sermon 13, 216).’ such sight again high-lights immediacy:

If there were nothing mediation between God and the soul, then it would see God without further ado;for God does not know any mediation, and he cannot endure any mediation. If the soul 心 were totally stripped or uncovered of all mediation, then God too would be stripped or uncovered for the soul 心, and God would give himself to it totally. As long as the soul is not yet free of any mediation, as slight as it may be, it does not see God(Sermon 40, 344).

2) Involved Freedom

When the Vajrasamādhi Sūtra States that the teaching of the Buddha goes beyond all duality but does not persist either in lingering in oneness, it addresses a central theme of ‘immediate’ religious literature. A wellknown Chan anecdote, for example, goes:

A monk asked Master Zhaozhou 趙州, “How is it when a man brings nothing with him:”

Zhaozhou replied, “Throw it away!”

The monk inquired, “Since I have noting on me, what could I throw away?”

Master Zhaozhou said, “Well then, go on carrying it!”

‘Not lingering’ is only possible where the root of all attachment is cut, i.e., where the minds of sentient beings are free of any object―including the ‘nothing; of Zhao- zhou’s student. the Granum sinapis song expresses the same when it demands that every ‘something’ and every ‘nothing’ must be lost. This absolute freedom is evoked in different forms. The Vajrasamādhi Sūtra puts it concisely:

Thusness does not linger in thusness;it has no character- istic of thusness because it is characterized by being free from thusness.

Lingering in thusness or in nirvana is thus seen as just another form of bondage. such lingering is also present when one prefers non-differentiation to the differentiation that is necessarily present in salvific expediency 方便 and any activity in the world. When in the Ratification the Indian side suggests that the Chinese are subject to this bondage, Moheyan retorts that, on the contrary, the Buddhas who have attained the ‘Knowledge without differentiation that is non-duality’ are, ‘just because of this non-differentiation and non-dual knowledge capable of differentiation excellently all particularities of things.’ But this kind of differentiation, Moheyan contends, is different from the ‘differentiation bound to deluded conceptions that characterizes fools and ignorants(folio 147b6-148a1).’

In his comment on this passage, Demiéville observes that all great mystics have insisted with great care on this ‘movement back to the world by a spirit that is freed from the world.’ Indeed, both the Ratification and the Vajrasamādhi Sūtra keep speaking of this, and one finds this theme at the heart of the Vimalakīrti Sūtra as well as many Chan materials(for example, pictures nine and ten of the Ten Oxherding Pictures). Eckhart also stresses this;for example, he says:

What is good? Good is what mediates itself. We call him a good man who mediates himself and is useful. thus a heathen master says:a hermit is neither good nor evil in this sense, because he does not mediate himself and is not useful(Sermon 10, 197).

such mediation is, as one would expect, spontaneous and immediate:‘The wiser and mightier a master is, the more immediate his activity unfolds, and the simpler it is(Sermon 57, 418).’ In the Chan tradition, such spontaneity of self-expression through action or words is a central characteristic of a free man;indeed, much of the written tradition of Chan consists of tests(koans 公案) or ‘gateless barriers 無門關’ that can only be passed through immediately, i.e., without the slightest hesitation, by someone who is utterly free of ‘every something’ and ‘every nothing’ and can express this immediately and spontaneously.

In Buddhism, such expression is most often subsumed under the twin labels of supreme wisdom(prajña paramita 般若波羅蜜多) and boundless compassion 慈悲;other religious traditions such as Christianity or Islam tend to emphasize love. Mystics like Rumi or Eckhart put special weight on this ‘twoness without twoness’:

By its very nature, love flows out and originates from two as one. One as one produces no love;neither does two as two. If is two as one that necessarily results in natural, passionate, fiery love.

But interestingly, Eckhart values compassion even higher than love:“I say:Above these two, above knowledge and love, towers compassion(Sermon 8, 189).”

As in Chan, Eckhart’s compassion has its roots in freedom which is ‘the existential place of all of Eckhart’s sermons and tractates, from the early Talks of Instruction to the late sermon about spiritual poverty.’ The German works in particular show a strong emphasis on breaking all fetters to attain absolute freedom which then can be expressed in an immediate, spontaneous, and free manner through action in the world. Like most Chan masters, Eckhart outs much more weight on leading his disciples to freedom than on telling them specifically how to act in the world; the emphasis is on how they should be rather than what they should do:

People ought not to reflect so much about what they should do; rather, they should thing about what they should be, If people were good and their ways were good, their works would shine brightly. If you are just, all your works will be just, too.

In Eckhart’s philosophical effort, the consequent movement beyond and twoness is exemplified by the progression from analogy to univocity and oneness, and in practical terms by his emphasis on the need to become free of anything mediate, for example prayers, fasting and sleep depravation(Sermon 1), ecstatic rapture(Sermon 28), and even God inasfar as he is ‘other(Sermon 32)’.

That man who recognizes in truth that, even if he lets go of himself and all things, it still amounts to nothing:oh, the man who lives in this way in truth possesses all things(Sermon 39, 341).

True man is thus ‘freedom itself(Sermon 31, 300)’:“He serves neither God nor man because he is free.”

A man, however, who would not be grounded nor attached to anything:such a man would stay completely unmoved even if heaven and earth were turned upside down because he is not attached to anything nor is there anything attached to him(Sermon 40, 347).

Though his heart remains unmoved even when his own father and all his friends are killed in front of his eyes(Sermon 35, 321), he does not remain untouched by joy and suffering(cf. Sermon 28, 287). However, he ‘suffers without suffering(Sermon 35, 322)’. Having left the life of division and entered the ‘life in which there is no opposite(Sermon 9, 194)’, he finds true peace and lives as the highest detachment(Abgeschiedenheit). But such detachment or aloofness does not mean inactivity;rather, it is characterized by intense involvement in the world, as Sermon 27 shows by contrasting the contemplative Maria to the active and involved Martha. Such a free and just man works all of his works out of the innermost ground where. ‘God’s ground is my ground and my ground is God’s ground(Sermon 6, 180)’ and is ‘joyful at all times(Sermon 7, 183)’.

3) Voicing the Immediate

Since one who has broken through to the immediate is, in Eckhart’s words, not simply a ‘master of reading (Lesemeister)’ but rather a ‘master of living(Lebemeister)’, his self-expression can take many forms. When trying to mediate the truth that he has realized, he usually needs to adapt the message to the capacity of the audience and employ terms and expressions that make sense to those who harbor deluded conceptions. In Buddhism, the ‘immediate’ truth is called ‘ultimate’ or ‘genuine’ truth, while the truth mediated for those with deluded conceptions is named ‘relative’ or ‘provisional’ truth, These ‘two truths’ play such a prominent role in Buddhism that already the Indian sage Nāgārjuna remarked:

The Buddhas teach Dharma by resorting to two truths:One is the conventional or provisional truth, the other is the ultimate truth. Those who do not comprehend the distinction between those two truths do not comprehend the deep significance in the Buddha’s teachings.

In the Ratification, Master Mahayana time and again points out that the Indian side does not seem to understand the difference between provisional and ultimate truth. In the introduction to the second series of questions and answers, he says for example:

All elements of doctrine are without [intentional] activity and [dualistic] thought. Nevertheless, if sentient beings of dull faculties are unable to gain access to the teaching, the buddhas have during their stay in the world […] established the Triple Vehicle and all sorts of expedient methods(folio 145b1-2).

The master insists on the clear distinction between statements made from the point of view of absolute truth and those made from the point of view of the ‘dharma of the world’ that employ expedient means 方便 and are compared to medicine prescribed in accordance with specific illnesses(folio 145b6):

In all responses that I have made in past and present concerning the necessity of practicing or not practicing the six perfections and all good practices, I have adopted the strict point of view of absolute truth, from which perspective the question of practicing or not practicing does not arise. But concerning the Dharma of the world, I teach and promote all practices as they are, large of small, from top to bottom, even if it is just a triple refuge prayer or a single vow said with joined hands(folio 155b3-6).

The question of verbal expression is also brought up several times in the context of the two truths. At the beginning of the second memorial, Master Mahayana says:

All I said was just to respond to questions while referring to sutra texts;it was not at all the true system of my dhyana method. My system is without verbal attribute and without attribute of differentiation due to our individual mind;the absolute truth is only transmitted by silence, and the way of words is cut(folio 155a3-4).

Similar views about the inability of language to capture reality are found in other teachings of ‘immediate’ kind and form the basis of their ‘apophatic’ tendency. Apophasis and kataphasis have been important themes in Buddhism and pre-Christian as well as Christian thought;we find them for example at the center of Plato’s famous Parmenides dialogue, and again in the works of Plotinus and other Neo-Platonists. In Christian mysticism(which was strongly influenced by Neo-Platonism), apophasis is the hallmark of the so-called ‘negative theology’ from Dionysios Areopagita onward. Apophatic locutions are typically combined with paradox statements, and I propose that they stand in an essential connection to the two truths:apophasis(neither this nor that) can be seen as an expression from the point of view of provisional truth, and paradox(neither this nor that yet also this and that) as a verbal expression of the reality of the awakened one(genuine or ultimate truth). The following passage by Dionysios is a typical example:

Therefore God is known in all things and apart from all things;and God is known by knowledge and unknowing. Of him there is understanding, reason, knowledge, touch, perception, opinion, imagination, name and many other things, but he is not understood, nothing can be said of him, he can not be named. He is not one of the things that are, nor is he known in any of the things that are;he is in all things everything and nothing in anything;he is known to all from all things and to no-one from anything. […] The most divine knowledge of God, that in which he is known through unknowing, according to the union that transcends the mind, happens when the mind, turning away from all things, including itself, is united with the dazzling rays, and there and then(頓) illuminated(悟) in the unsearchable depth of wisdom.

In Eckhart as in other Christian mystics, negation and paradox are the favorite modes of verbal expression of the immediate or ‘non-other’ that they call God, similarly to dionysios, Eckhart avers that God is ‘beyond all names’ and made many apophatic statements such as the following which was condemned as heretic by the Catholic church:

God is not good and not better and not best, Whoever says that God is good speaks so wrongly as if he stated that the sun is pale or black(Sermon 10, 197).

Other statements by Eckhart sound less radical but are no less apophatic:

A heathen master says that man’s tongue cannot pronounce any adequate word about God because of the loftiness and purity of his being. When we speak about a tree, we speak about it by means of something which is higher, like the sun which works through this tree, Therefore one cannot speak about God in the true sense because noting is above him and because God has no cause, Secondly, we can speak about things because of identity. So we cannot speak about God in the true sense because nothing is identical to him. Thirdly, one speaks about things because of their effects:if one wants to speak of a painter, one speaks of the picture he created;the picture reveals the master’s art. The creatures are too base to reveal God;they are all nothing compared to God. Thus no creature can say a single word about God in his creations. therefore Dionysios says:All those who want to make statements about God are wrong because they say nothing about him. But those who attempt to not speak about him are right, for no word can express God(Sermon 21, 247-8).

The second cause Eckhart adduces to support apophasis is echoed in a statement that comes close to the Buddhist two-truths doctrine:

The masters say:When one knows a creature in its own essence, one calls this ‘evening perception’;there one sees creatures in images of manifold differentiation. But if one perceives creatures in God, it is called ‘morning perception’;this way one sees creatures without any differences and stripped of all images and freed of all sameness in the oneness that is God himself(On the Noble Man, p. 147).

The paradox of seeing ‘without any differences’ yet ‘freed of all sameness’ or other paradoxical statements like ‘length without length is length, and breadth without breadth is breadth(Sermon 19, 238)’ point back to the ‘groundless ground(Sermo 39, 342)’ of both apophasis and paradox in Eckhart:his view of oneness as a ‘no- distinction that is both distinct and indistinct from all that is distinct.’

Oneness is difference, and difference is oneness. The more there is difference, the more there is oneness:just that is the difference without difference(Sermon 11, 206).

This ‘non-dual’ conception, which was later developed by Nicolaus of Cusa(1401~1464) in terms of ‘the non-other’ and ‘the coincidence of opposites’ forms the heart of Eckhart’s thought. And, as I proposed in this paper, it may also be regarded as the core of other religious movements that usually are subsumed under thee label of ‘mysticism’ but might be better characterized by the numerous connotations of the Chinese concept of dun 頓 that were explored in these pages.