Thursday, February 4, 2010

Jesus as the "Issa" of Tibetan religion

Taken from our "Lost Cultural Foundations of Eastern Civilization"

Kersten kicks off with the story of Nicolai Notovitch, a 'Russian historian and itinerant scholar', who in 1887 is alleged to have had a most interesting encounter with a lama in Ladakh, Tibet (though he will add on p. 15 that German expert on India, Max Müller, would later dispute this, saying that Notovitch's presence in Ladakh was 'not documented'). Kersten tells of the alleged conversation that took place between the Russian and a lama at a Buddhist monastery, in which the lama recognizes for his leader, the Dalai Lama, a status similar to that which Catholics accord to the Pope (pp.7f.):
Notovitch eventually arrived at a Buddhist monastery where, as a European, he was afforded a reception that was much more cordial than any Asiatic Muslim might have expected. He asked a lama why he should be favoured in this way, and the following conversation took place:
'The Muslims have little in common with our religion. Indeed, not long ago they waged an all-too-successful campaign to forcibly convert a number of our Buddhists to Islam. It has caused us immense difficulty to reconvert these ex-Buddhist Muslims back to the way of the true God. Now the Europeans are altogether different. Not only do they profess the essential principles of monotheism, they have almost as much title to be considered worshippers of the Buddha as the lamas of Tibet themselves. The only difference between the Christians and ourselves is that, after having adopted the great doctrines of Buddha, the Christians have parted from him completely by creating for themselves a different Dalai Lama. Our Dalai Lama alone retained the divine gift of seeing the majesty of Buddha, and the power to act as an intermediary between earth and Heaven'.
'Who is this Christian Dalai Lama you are talking about?' asked Notovitch. 'We have a Son of God, to whom we direct our fervent prayers, and whom in time of need we beseech to intercede for us with our one and indivisible God …'
'It is not of him I speak, Sahib! We too respect the one you recognize as Son of the one God – not that we see in him an only Son, rather a Being perfect among all the elect. The spirit of Buddha was indeed incarnate in the sacred person of Issa, who, without aid from fire or sword, has spread knowledge of our great and true religion throughout the world. I speak instead of your earthly Dalai Lama, him to whom you have given the title "Father of the Church". This is a great sin; may the flocks be forgiven who have gone astray because of it'.
And so saying, the lama hastened to turn his prayer wheel. Understanding the lama to be alluding to the Pope, Notovitch probed further.
'You tell me that a son of Buddha, Issa, spread your religion over the Earth. Who is he, then?'
At this question the lama opened his eyes wide and looked at his visitor in astonishment. After uttering a few words the interpreter did not catch, he explained:
'Issa is a great prophet, one of the first after the twenty-two Buddhas. He is greater than any one of the Dalai Lamas, for he constitutes part of the spiritual essence of our Lord. It is he who has enlightened you, who has brought back within the fold of religion the souls of the erring, and who allows every human being to distinguish between good and evil. His name and his deeds are recorded in our sacred writings'.
By this time Notovitch was feeling quite stunned at the lama's words, for the prophet Issa, his teaching, his martyrdom, and the reference to a Christian Dalai Lama were increasingly reminiscent of Jesus Christ.
Notovitch, according to Kersten (p. 10), would later view the sacred writings on Issa at the Hemis monastery in Leh, the capital of Ladakh, and would take notes as they were read to him via an interpreter. These notes would later be published, firstly in French. Kersten continues:
Its contents may be succinctly outlined (using the French translation as a basis):
A short introductory section precedes a brief description of the early history of the people of Israel and the life of Moses. An account then follows of how the eternal Spirit resolves to take on human form 'so that he might demonstrate by his own example how moral purity may be attained, and by freeing the soul from its rude mortality [sic], achieve the degree of perfection required to enter into the kingdom of Heaven, which is unchanging and ruled by eternal happiness'. And so a divine infant is born in faraway Israel, and is given the name Issa. Sometime during the fourteenth year of his life, the lad arrived in the region of the Sind (the Indus) in the company of merchants, 'and he settled among the Aryans, in the land beloved of God, with the intention of perfecting himself and of learning from the laws of the great Buddha'. The young Issa travels through the land of the five rivers (the Punjab), stays briefly with the 'erring Jains', and then proceeds to Jagannath, 'where the white priests of Brahma honoured him with a joyous reception'. At Jagannath Issa/Jesus learns to read and understand the Veda. But by then instructing the Sudras of the lower castes, he incurs the displeasure of the Brahmans, who feel their position and power threatened. After spending six years in Jagannath, Rajagriha, Benbares and other holy cities, he is compelled to flee the Brahmans who are outraged at his continuing to teach that it is not the will of God that the worth of human beings should be judged by their caste. [40]

This is really the Buddha all over again. And I had noted at the end of the previous article a parallel between Jesus' attitude towards the Jewish priests and Buddha's towards the Brahmans. Kersten himself will note the same with regard to Jesus and Issa (pp. 10f.):
There is an extraordinary correlation between the accounts in the texts found by Notovitch and those of the Gospels, a correlation that can shed more light on Jesus' own personality – especially in what he said. Notovitch's Issa opposes the abuses of the caste system, which rob the lower castes of their basic human rights, saying, 'God our father makes no difference between any of his children, all of whom he loves equally'. And later on in his travels he takes issue with a rigid and inhumane adherence to the letter of the law, declaring that 'The law was made for Man, to show him the way.' He consoles the weak: 'The eternal Judge, the eternal Spirit, who forms the sole and indivisible Word-soul … will proceed sternly against those who arrogate His rights to themselves.' When the priests challenge Issa to produce miracles, to prove the omnipotence of his God, he retorts, 'The miracles of our God have been performed ever since the first day when the universe was created; they take place every day and at every moment. Those who cannot perceive them are robbed of one of the most beautiful gifts of life'.
Issa, after having spent six years in Nepal, finally moves on towards the West, to Persia, where he 'also stands up to the priests of Persia, who expel him one night in the hope that he will quickly fall prey to wild animals'. And then on to Palestine. When the wise men there inquire of him 'Who are you, and from what country do you come? We have never heard of you and do not even know your name', Issa answers in terms that actually, in part, recall Moses more than they do Jesus (pp.11f.):
'I am an Israelite', Issa replies, 'and on the day of my birth I saw the walls of Jerusalem and heard the sobs of my brothers in their slavery and the wails of my sisters condemned to live among the heathen. And my soul grieved sorely when I heard that my brothers had forgotten the true God. As a child, I left my parents' home to live among other peoples. But after hearing of the great sorrows that my brothers were suffering, I returned to the land where my parents lived, in order to bring my brothers back to the faith of our ancestors, a faith which enjoins us to be patient on earth so that we might achieve the consummate and highest happiness in the Beyond.'

We saw in the previous article how legends and mythology often intertwine the lives of Christ and Moses, and this is perhaps yet another example. We saw it in the case of Mohammed, for example, and it may be that the Indian story of Issa was filtered into India through Islam. Issa's being brought up in slavery and growing up amongst foreigners, and then returning to liberate his people, is the classical story of Moses and the Oppression by pharaoh, and his adoption into the Egyptian royal family; and, later, his sojourning in the foreign country of Midian (for which the Buddhists apparently substituted India and Nepal); and then his returning to liberate his brethren (all recorded in the Book of Exodus). The name Issa though, and Jerusalem, would be more appropriate for Jesus, who achieved a spiritual – rather than Moses' physical – release of his people from their bondage (to sin).

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