- The Lost Sutras of Jesus: Unlocking the Ancient Wisdom of the Xian Monks, and: The Buddha's Gospel: A Buddhist Interpretation of Jesus' Words
Since Roy C. Amore's Two Masters, One Message (1987) revived the hypothesis of Buddhist influence on Christian origins and Hans-Joachim Klimkeit's research established links between Nestorian Christianity, Gnostic Manichaeism, and Mahayana Buddhism in Central Asia, there is scope for further reflection on commonalities between the two traditions over and above the purely doctrinal and philosophical. The two books under review, though intended for a general readership, are indications that interest in these matters is very much alive.
Riegert and Moore preface their selection of texts with the story of Bishop Aleben (A-lo-pen), who travelled the Silk Road from Persia and was received with honour at the imperial capital of Xian (Chang-an) at the beginning of the Tang dynasty (635 CE). The emperor Taizong was sympathetic to what he called the "Luminous Religion," a Nestorian version of Christianity, possibly in Syriac, as presented by Aleben. It seems that these teachings were translated into Chinese in the form of sutras. One of them, preserved in stone as the Monument Sutra, features the cross rising from the lotus, the symbol chosen by Karl Reichelt for Tao-fung Shan, his Christian center in Buddhist style at Sha-tin outside Hong Kong, many centuries later. Thousands of Buddhist texts were preserved in the library cave at Dunhuang monastery, about one thousand miles west of Xian, where they were rediscovered by the Taoist priest Wang Yuanlu, who arrived there in the 1890s and became the self-appointed guardian of the scrolls.
Included in this treasure trove were the Jesus Sutras, which are now scattered in museums and private collections, largely inaccessible to the public. But if the selection published here in a very elegant translation is anything to go by, they are [End Page 190] extremely significant religious documents with a spiritual value all their own. For the uninitiated, there is no way of checking the authenticity of these translations. The commentaries that accompany them could be slightly tendentious in that they nudge us in the direction of the editors' particular holistic worldview. But the texts themselves have a beauty and integrity that speaks for itself. They represent a Higher Dharma of perfect purity (p. 86), which, like a mirror, reflects the world with no trace of self: no desire, no action, no virtue, no truth (pp. 80–83, 126–129). The Jesus story is retold, and Jesus is portrayed as the teacher of this Higher Path. The sutras speak of One Spirit who is self-created, One God who is creator of the world, and One Lord, the Messiah who will return. There are prayers, too: "O Loving Father, Enlightened Son, Holy Spirit King"; "Lamb of Love and Bliss"; "O Holy Sage, Universal Lord, Messiah" (pp. 110–113). The texts obviously bear witness to a Buddhist-Christian dialogue much earlier and at a far deeper level than many would have thought possible. Whether they represent the religion of the future, as the editors suggest, remains to be seen.
Lindsay Falvey's project of interpreting the canonical texts of Buddhism and Christianity in reference to one another has a similar orientation. In the course of agricultural development work in Thailand he came to realize "that the striking similarity between the two teachers may well be a seamless cloak of congruence beneath the mantle of culture and lore" (p. 13); the texts, in other words, may be quite literally translatable into one another's terms. Though aware that Q, the collection of Jesus' sayings that is supposed to have been available to the synoptic evangelists, is a hypothetical reconstruction, he still feels able to use a version of it as a basis for his experiment. He prefaces this with what he calls "A...