(A Quarterly International Peer-reviewed Refereed e-Journal
Devoted to English Language and Literature)
The Speaking Self
Krishna Kumar Agrawal
The Bhagavad Gita and The Confucian are well known scriptures in the world. Both classics may initially appear forbiddingly apart and to be contemplated in their splendid isolation, but this is the apparent truth and not the reality. These seemingly distinct traditions converge on the same point while portraying an ideal type of person from their respective point of view. The Bhagavad Gita constantly attempts to identify a person from different angles in which its teachings are embodied. The ideal type of person in whom its teachings are incarnated is described by various names, although the descriptions have much in common, for example— Sthitapragya in chapter II (54-72); Bhakta in chapter XII (13-20), Gunatita in chapter XIV (21-27) as well as Sanyasi and Yogi in chapters V (8-29) and VI (4-32) respectively.
In short, a Sthitapragya is a person who is undistracted, passionless and egoless. He remains equanimous in all the ups and down in life and is firm like a mountain. As for Bhakta, Krishna says— “Dear to me is the man who is alike to friend and foe, in fame and infamy, in heat and cold, in joy and sorrow, and who is patient, serene, steadfast and subdued.” Gunatita is a person “who remains serene in honour and dishonour, glory and shame, in pain and joy, knowing that the gunas are working and he remains steady.” For a Sanyasi, the Bhagavad Gita says— “though seeing, listening, smelling, eating, walking, sleeping, breathing, talking, holding and discarding, he should say, I do nothing at all, firm in the truth, it is only the senses that rest on their objects.” He is the constant Sanyasi, who is neither depressed nor elated, who is free from extremes— his salvation progresses. Similarly, a Yogi is not bound either to sense-objects or to work and he is rid of all desires. He is serene in heat and cold, disgust and delight, honour and infamy. He is impartial to his friends and foes, the sinful and the wicked. A yogi has a steady mind and achieves tranquility. What a beautiful picture is drawn in the Gita of the same person under various names although the descriptions have much in common as explained above.
It is remarkable that a similar development also occurs in Confucianism, where the kind of person embodying the teaching is presented by Confucius as the ‘Chuntzu’ translated as the nobleman, gentleman or the higher man, which he himself was striving to become. This effort to portray the ideal type of person is like a bridge between the two seemingly different faiths. A famous disciple of Confucius asked the Confucius: “What constitutes the higher man?” The questions asked to Krishna by Arjun and to Confucius by his disciples are quite common— “How does such a person talk or walk and how does the person walk his talk and talk his walk?” For instance, Arjun wants to know, how a person of steady wisdom (Sthitapragya) sits, walks or talks. This is described above by various names in the Gita. Similarly, Confucius describes ‘Chun-tzu’ (nobleman) as under:
In regard to his eyes, he is anxious to see clearly. In regard to his countenance, he is anxious that it should be benign. In regard to his demeanor, he is anxious that it should be respectful. In regard to his speech, he is anxious that it should be sincere…. Further there are three things constantly on the lips of the Nobleman— a man of benevolence never worries; a man of wisdom is never in two minds; a man of courage is never afraid.
Not only the above two scriptures have a common thread in their teachings, there are two great missionary world-religions, taking their original from two of the greatest spiritual figures in world history, with many parallel ideas of ethics, like style and the like. Only a few examples of similarity of Jesus Christ and Lord Buddha are given here for the sake of brevity. Christ’s message is a message of love, forgiveness and reconciliation. He means to say that love your neighbor as you love yourself— if anyone strikes you on one cheek, turn the other towards him too. Lord Buddha says: “The knowledge of the truth, the attainment of Nirvan— this is the supreme blessing. Through love alone can hate be vanquished; through perfect love evil may be overcome; speak no harsh words to your neighbor; and he will respond to you in like terms.
Like Jesus, the Buddha was regarded as both divine and human. Like Christ’s, his birth is the result of a miracle— angel messengers proclaim that he will be a savior. Just as the old and pious Simeon has been told he will see the coming of the Messiah; the birth of the Buddha is prophesied by the saintly old Asita who takes the new born child in his arms and declares— “He will attain to the ultimate height of enlightenment and will set the wheel of doctrine in motion. He has compassion on the struggles of humankind. The faith he founds will spread all over the world.” Likewise Simeon takes the holy child in his arms and says— “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word: for mine eyes have seen thy salvation, which thou hast prepared before the face of all people; a light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of the people Israel”.
Both Jesus and the Buddha forbid murder, theft, bearing false witness and illicit sexual relations. Both held elders in great respect. Both aim to overcome evil with good. Both preach love of one’s enemy. Both value peace of mind and peaceful intent. Both advocate mercy for sacrificial victims. In some texts, both faiths coincide virtually word by word. Both the Buddha’s and Jesus’s first disciples are sitting under a fig tree. Both have one favorite disciple and another one disciple who betrays them. Just as the Buddha rejects the blood sacrifice performed by Brahmans, Jesus denounces the blood sacrifice of the Jews. Just as the Buddha called himself a‘Son of Man’ so did Jesus. Just as Jesus may be described as the ‘Light of the World’, so the Buddha is acclaimed as ‘Eye of the World’ and ‘Incomparable Light’.
Similarly, the understanding of his own nature differs little in Jesus and the Buddha. The Buddha says— “I know God and the kingdom of Heaven and the way that leads there. Those who believe in me and love me are certain to reach paradise. Those who believe in me can be sure of salvation.” This is similar to the promises of Jesus recorded in John’s Gospel: “He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. And he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live.” Although all attempts failed at obscuring the true origin of Jesus’s teachings, yet more than hundred passages in the New Testament may be cited that exhibit evidence of sources that hark back to a much older tradition— Buddhism. The same is the position with the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, which is the creation of a century either side of the Christian Era after Buddhism.
To the question— “What is the real happiness?”, Lord Buddha says— “When faced with all the ups and downs of life still the mind remains unshaken, not lamenting, not generating defilements, always feeling secure. This is the greatest happiness.” Again, he says— “Forbearing patience is the highest moral practice. Nibbana is supreme. A Bhikku does not harm others. One who harms others is not a Bhikku.” The essence of Lord Buddha’s teaching lies in awareness from moment to moment in all the ups and downs of life, which is a creation of interaction of mind and matter, and remains equanimous. These teachings are exactly similar to the teachings of the Gita as explained earlier.
There is a question as to where did Jesus learn the precepts he proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount? An answer may be found in the Buddhist Scripture like ‘Lalitavistara’ which exhibits the greatest number of parallels with the tradition of the Gospels. It is a biography of the Buddha compiled in the centuries either side of the Christ’s birth and was included in the canon of the Mahayana by edict of the council of Haran in the first century AD, during the reign of Kanishka, some years before the compilation of the New Testament. So close are the versions of the two faiths that it would be difficult to believe that the later Christianism was somehow invented quite independently of the earlier Buddhism. The teachings of both ‘isms’ are embodied in the person of Jesus and the Buddha just as the teachings of the Gita and the Confucianism are incarnated in Krishna and Confucius.
This answer is better traceable from the question as to whether there was any link between the early Christian movement and the Essenes. Could the Christian religion have begun as the offshoot of Essenes modes of worship? Two centuries before Christ, a remarkable mystic movement arose among the Jews of Alexandria and Palestine. In Egypt, these mystics were known as Therapeuts; their spiritual brothren in Palestine called themselves Essenes and Nazarenes. Therapeut Community in the outskirts of Alexandria was influenced by the presence of Buddhist monks. The community of Essenes lived in caves in the rock walls of a mountain near the Dead Sea. At the same time Buddhists monks were living in caves. The Essenes also practised the rites that were similar to those of Buddhists. They recognized eight stages of spiritual growth like the Eightfold Path of the Buddhists. In the Greek manuscript, Jesus is given the title— ‘The Nazarene’. The Essenes hid their library of parchment manuscripts and papyrus scrolls in large clay vases in caves within the Qaratania Mountains near the Dead Sea. In 1947, some such scrolls were discovered by a goat boy while in search of his lost goat. They were deciphered by the famous archaeologist William F. Allbright in 1948, who dated them to be the first century B.C. These scrolls contain teachings similar to those of Jesus and contain rules and regulations for a religious community. It was opined that the Essenes must have been the true precursors of early Christianity. From the discovery of the famous Dead Sea scrolls at Qumran in the 20th century, the people perceived the full significance of Essene teachings, which anticipated the teachings of Jesus. There are obvious parallels between the Essenes way of life, the Buddhistic monastic rules, and Jesus’ own habits. A theory was also advanced in 19th century that Jesus was the natural son of an Essene to whom Mary had given herself by way of religious betrothal. The child was handed over to the Order which genuinely was an Essenes custom and practice. In 1831, August Friedrich Gofrorrer wrote: “The Christian church evolved from the community of the Essenes, whose ideas they developed and without whose rules its organization could not have been established.”
There is also a striking similarity in the teachings of the Holy Quran which are embodied in the prophet Mohammad. Quran says— “Verily Allah will admit those who believe and do righteous deeds, to Gardens beneath which rivers flow; while those who reject Allah will enjoy (this world) and eat as cattle eat; and the Fire will be their abode…. It is He who sent down tranquility into the hearts of the Believers. That He may admit the men and women who believe to Gardens beneath which rivers flow, to dwell therein for aye (forever), and remove their sins from them.” Once prophet Mohammad was present in a mosque at the time of prayer. One devotee could not retain his urge of urinating due to some disease during the prayer and his urine fell down on the floor of the mosque. Some persons rushed to beat him. Prophet Mohammad out of compassion and love immediately arose from prayer and washed the floor himself by bringing a bucketful of water. This was a very high degree of compassion embodied in the person of Mohammad. Quran was compiled some centuries later than the Christian Era.
From a brief comparative similarities in the various religious faiths discussed above, it is evident that the teachings of the Buddha must have influenced the teachings in other faiths which are the creation of a period later than Buddhism. However, the question arises as to why there is a conflict among the people of different faiths when there is so much similarity (except the language) in their teachings which impart the same love and compassion towards the humanity? I pray to the people of the world of the so called different faiths to sit together on a common platform and resolve their issues in the following prayer:
Behold upon the distant sand appear
The peaks of Divinity Calm
Where Prophet offers his solemn prayer
The prayers of Islam!
There beneath the heaven reaching spires
A clergyman sings the Psalm
And there beneath the temple tower
Hymns are sung of Ram!
Who is that Ram or God of Islam
or Rubian Light of Christianity?
Are they not the visions of One—
The unseen Ruler of Eternity?
Then why, O why, my Muslim brethren
or followers of Christianity,
Why, O why, O men in saffron
Live not in single humanity?
About the Author:
Author, critic, translator and journalist Krishna Kumar Agrawal (K. Kumar), born on Nov 16, 1927, is a graduate in Science, M.A. in Economics and LL.B. Being an Income Tax Advocate since 1969, he has deep interest in writing articles on Income Tax published in the ITR, the Taxman and its associate journals such as the Current Tax Reporter, the Taxation, the Economic Times etc. He had adeptly translated a number of short stories of eminent foreign writers writing in English into Hindi and written marvelous sketches of Jawaharlal Nehru, Dr Radhakrishnan, Vinoba Bhave among others, which were duly published in several newspapers and magazines of Hindi language and later on compiled in his popular book— Manavata Ki Jhanki (2014). His books— Bhagavad Gita— Vipassana Sadhana Ka Darshan Hai (2008) and Bhagavad Gita— Vipassana Ki Chhaya Mein (compilation of published articles on Bhagavad Gita and Vipassana, 2012) have been widely acclaimed by the scholars of Indian philosophy. His another book in English— Journey to The Inner Peace (2016) is an adaptation of Bhagavad Gita— Vipassana Ki Chhaya Mein. He resides at 35-8B/A-1, Near LIC Office, Rampur Garden, Bareilly-243001 (U.P.) and can also be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.