Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Cross and Lotus Blossom

I'm currently reading The Lost History of Christianity: The Thousand-Year Golden Age of the Church in the Middle East, Africa, and Asia -- and How It Died, by Philip Jenkins.  Here's a selection from the first chapter.

The Church of the East was anything but a newcomer in China, and Christianity first established itself in that land about 600, roughly at the same time that Tibet first welcomed Buddhism.  About 780, a Nestorian community erected a monument that recounted the Christian message in Buddhist and Taoist terms, just as European Christians were trying to make the faith acceptable to peoples of western northern Europe:

The illustrious and honorable Messiah, veiling his true dignity, appeared in the world as a man; . . . he fixed the extent of the eight boundaries, thus completing the truth and freeing it from dross; he opened the gate of the three constant principles, introducing life and destroying death; he suspended the bright sun to invade the chambers of darkness, and the falsehoods of the devil were thereupon defeated; he set in motion the vessel of mercy by which to ascend to the bright mansions, whereupon rational beings were then released; having thus completed the manifestation of his power, in clear day he ascended to his true station. 

I also thought the following information about the Christian influence upon Buddhist texts was interesting:

Around the the time this memorial was erected, in 782, the Indian Buddhist missionary Prajna arrived in the Chinese imperial capital of Chang'an, but was unable to translate the Sanskrit sutras he had brought with him into either Chinese or any other familiar tongue.  In such a plight, what could the hapless missionary do but seek Christian help?  He duly consulted the bishop named Adam, whose name headed the list on the Nestorian monument.  Adam had already translated parts of the Bible into Chinese, and the two probably shared a knowledge of Persian.  Together, Buddhist and Nestorian scholars worked amiably together for some years to translate seven copious volumes of Buddhist wisdom.  Probably, Adam did this as much from intellectual curiosity as from ecumenical goodwill, and we can only guess about the conversations that would have ensued:  So, what exactly is this "bodhisattva" we hear so much about?  Do you really care more about relieving suffering than atoning for sin?  And your monks meditate like ours do?  Scholars still speculate whether Adam infiltrated Christian concepts into the translated sutras, consciously or otherwise.  

Headstone of Mrs. Yap
Yuan Dynasty(1272-1368)

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