India in Primitive Christianity - Rites
The Abbé Huc on the close similarity of Christian and Buddhist rites—Confirmed by Fathers Disderi and Grueber—Rev. S. Beal on a Buddhist liturgy—Mr. Fergusson holds that the various details of the Christian Basilica have been taken from the temples of the Buddhists—On which side was the borrowing?—Arguments pro and con.
I have left myself little space to write of the many points of close similarity between the Buddhists and the Roman Catholics.
The French missionary, Huc, in his celebrated travels in Thibet, was much struck with this similarity.
"The crozier, the mitre, the dalmatic, the cope or pluvial, which the grand lâmas wear on a journey, or when they perform some ceremony outside the temple, the service with a double choir, psalmody, exorcisms, the censer swinging on five chains and contrived to be opened and shut at will, benediction by the lâmas, with the right hand extended over the heads of the faithful, the chaplet, sacerdotal celibacy, Lenten retirements from the world, the worship of saints, fasts, processions, litanies, holy water—these are the points of contact between the Buddhists and ourselves."
Listen also to Father Disderi, who visited Thibet in the year 1714. "The lâmas have a tonsure like our priests, and are bound over to perpetual celibacy. They study their scriptures in a language and in characters that differ from the ordinary characters. They recite prayers in choir. They serve the temple, present the offerings, and keep the lamps perpetually alight. They offer to God corn and barley and paste and water in little vases, which are extremely clean. Food thus offered is considered consecrated, and they eat it. The lâmas have local superiors, and a superior-general."*
Father Grueber, with another priest, named Dorville, passed from Pekin through Thibet to Patna in the year 1661. Henry Prinsep† thus sums up what he has recorded:—
"Father Grueber was much struck with the extraordinary similarity he found, as well in the doctrine as in the rituals, of the Buddhists of Lha Sa, to those of his own Romish faith. He noticed, first, that the dress of the lâmas corresponded to that handed down to us in ancient paintings as the dress of the Apostles. Second, that the discipline of the monasteries and of the different orders of lâmas or priests bore the same resemblance to that of the Romish Church. Third, that the notion of an Incarnation was common to both, so also the belief in paradise and purgatory. Fourth, he remarked that they made suffrages, alms, prayers, and sacrifices for the dead, like the Roman Catholics. Fifth, that they had convents filled with monks and friars to the number of thirty thousand, near Lha Sa, who all made the three vows of poverty, obedience, and chastity, like Roman monks, besides other vows. Sixth, that they had confessors licensed by the superior lâmas or bishops, and so empowered to receive confessions, impose penances, and give absolution. Besides all this there was found the practice of using holy water, of singing service in alternation, of praying for the dead, and of perfect similarity in the customs of the great and superior lâmas to those of the different orders of the Romish hierarchy. These early missionaries further were led to conclude, from what they saw and heard, that the ancient books of the lâmas contained traces of the Christian religion, which must, they thought, have been preached in Thibet in the time of the Apostles."
In the year 1829 Victor Jacquemont, the French botanist, made a short excursion from Simla into Thibet. He writes: "The Grand Lâma of Kanum has the episcopal mitre and crozier. He is dressed just like our bishops. A superficial observer at a little distance would take his Thibetan and Buddhist mass for a Roman mass of the first water. He makes twenty genuflexions at the right intervals, turns to the altar and then to the congregation, rings a bell, drinks in a chalice water poured out by an acolyte, intones paternosters quite of the right sing-song—the resemblance is really shocking. But men whose faith is properly robust will see here nothing but a corruption of Christianity."*
It must be borne in mind that what is called Southern Buddhism has the same rites. St. Francis Xavier in Japan found Southern Buddhism so like his own that he donned the yellow sanghati, and called himself an apostle of Buddha, quieting his conscience by furtively mumbling a little Latin of the baptismal service over some of his "converts."
This is what the Rev. S. Beal, a chaplain in the Navy, wrote of a liturgy that he found in China:—
"The form of this office is a very curious one. It bears a singular likeness in its outline to the common type of the Eastern Christian liturgies. That is to say, there is a 'Proanaphoral' and an 'Anaphoral.' portion. There is a prayer of entrance (τῆς εἰσοδου), an ascription of praise to the threefold object of worship (τρισαγίον), a prayer of oblation (τῆς προσθεσεως), the lections, the recitations of the Dharani (μυστηριον), the Embolismus, or prayer against temptation, followed by a 'Confession' and a 'Dismissal:'"*
Turning to architecture, I must point out that Mr. Fergusson, the leading authority in ancient art was of opinion that the various details of the early Christian basilica—nave, aisle, columns, semi-domed apse, cruciform ground plan—were borrowed en bloc from the Buddhists. Relic-worship, he says, was certainly borrowed from the East. Of the rock-cut temple of Kârle (B.C. 78) he writes:—
"The building resembles, to a great extent, an early Christian Church in its arrangements, consisting of a nave and side aisles terminating in an apse or semi-dome, round which the aisle is carried. . . . As a scale for comparison, it may be mentioned that its arrangements and dimensions are very similar to those of the choir of Norwich Cathedral, and of the Abbaye aux Hommes at Caen, omitting the outer aisles in the latter buildings.
"Immediately under the semi-dome of the apse, and nearly where the altar stands in Christian churches, is placed the Dâgoba."†
The list of resemblances is by no means exhausted. The monks on entering a temple make the gesture that we call the sign of the cross. The Buddhists have illuminated missals, Gregorian chants, a tabernacle on the altar for oblations, a pope, cardinals angels with wings, saints with the nimbus. For a full account I must refer the reader to my "Buddhism in Christendom."
How is all this to be accounted for? Several theories have been started:— The first attempts to make light of the matter altogether. All religions, it says, have sacrifice, incense, priests, the idea of faith, etc. This may be called the orthodox Protestant theory, and many bulky books have recently appeared propounding it. But as these books avoid all the strong points of the case, they cannot be called at all satisfactory to the bewildered inquirer.
To this theory the Roman Catholics reply that the similarities between Buddhism and Catholicism are so microscopic and so complete, that one religion must have borrowed from the other. In consequence they try to prove that the rites of Buddhism and the life of its founder were derived from Christianity, from the Nestorians, from St. Thomas, from St. Hyacinth of Poland, from St. Oderic of Frioul.*
In the way of this theory, however, there are also insuperable difficulties. Buddha died 470 years before Christ, and for many years the Christian Church had no basilicas, popes, cardinals, basilica worship, nor even for a long time a definite life of the founder. At the date of Asoka (B.C. 260) there was a metrical life of Buddha (Muni Gâtha), and the incidents of this life are found sculptured in marble on the gateways of Buddhist temples that precede the Christian epoch. This is the testimony of Sir Alexander Cunningham, the greatest of Indian Archæologists. He fixes the date of the Bharhut Stûpa at from 270 to 250 B.C. There he finds Queen Maya's dream of the elephant, the Rishis at the ploughing match, the transfiguration of Buddha and the ladder of diamonds, and other incidents. At the Sanchi tope, an earlier structure (although the present marble gateways, repeated probably from wood, are fixed at about A.D. 19), he announces representations of Buddha as an elephant coming down to his mother's womb, three out of the "Four Presaging Tokens," Buddha bending the bow of Sinhahanu, King Bimbisâra visiting the young prince, and other incidents.
A man who invents, let us say, a submarine boat, at once puts his idea to a practical test. Let us try and construct a working model here. Suppose that the present ruler of Afghanistan were paying us a visit, and, introduced at Fulham Palace, he were to suggest that the life of Mahomet should supersede that of Jesus in our Bible, and Mussulman rites replace the Christian ritual in the diocese of London. What would be the answer? The bishop, anxious to deal gently with a valuable ally, would point out that he was only a cogwheel in a vast machinery, a cogwheel that could be promptly replaced if it proved the least out of gear. He would show that the Anglican Church had a mass of very definite rules called canon law, with courts empowered to punish the slightest infringement of these rules. He would show that even an archbishop could not alter a tittle of the gospel narrative. Every man, woman, and child would immediately detect the change.
Similar difficulties would be in the way of St. Hyacinth of Poland in, say, a monastery of Ceylon. The Abbot there would be responsible to what Bishop Bigandet calls his "provincial," and he again to his "superior-général," and so on to the Achârya, the "High Priest of all the World," who, in his palace at Nalanda, near Buddha Gaya, was wont to sit in state, surrounded by ten thousand monks. Buddhism, by the time that a Christian missionary could have reached it, was a far more diffused and conservative religion than Anglicanism. It had a canon law quite as definite. It had hundreds of volumes treating of the minutest acts of Sâkya Muni.
Suggestions for Further Reading
- Hinduism and Christianity, Jesus in India
- The Advaita Vedanta - Non Duality
- Introduction to Hinduism - Prakriti
- The Kapila And The Pâtañjala Samkhya Yoga
- Brahman According to Advaita and Dvaita in Hinduism
- Atheism and Materialism in Ancient India
- Solving the Hindu Caste System
- Emptiness or Sunyavada in Buddhism
- Buddhism - A Discourse on Ignorance
- The Working of Maya or Illusion - A Buddhist Perspective
- Buddhism - The Middle Way or the Middle Path
- What Samsara Means in Buddhism
- The Chaos Theory and Nirvana in Buddhism
- Hinduism and Caste System
- Dealing with Chance, Fate and Acts of God
- Death and Afterlife in Hinduism
- What is Hinduism?
- Hinduism and Diversity
- Hinduism and Judaism
- Hinduism and Same-sex Marriage
- Significance of Happiness in Hinduism
- Redirect - Symbolism Hinduism
- The Meaning and Purpose of Yoga
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