Ahmadiyya Islam and Buddhism

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In 1899, the Islamic scholar Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (of Qadian) published his book entitled ‘Jesus in India’, within which he argues that it was not Buddhism that had spread to Palestine and influenced Jesus in his teachings, but rather that Jesus, after surviving the crucifixion, travelled to live in Jewish communities in Northern India, where he encountered various Jews who had become Buddhist monks. Apparently interpreting Jesus as Maitreya – the future Buddha yet to come – Ahmad asserts that these monks then ‘integrated’ the sayings of Jesus into the Buddhist scripture.  In the late 1880’s, he founded the ‘Ahmadiyya’ movement within Islam which views Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha, and Confucius as prophets, alongside all the usual Quranic and Biblical prophets.  Ahmad, through this book, sets-out to prove that Jesus did not die on the cross, and that the Christian interpretation is incorrect.  In so doing, he also proves that the Jews persecuted and attempted to kill a prophet from god – but failed in their mission.  He very cleverly uses Biblical scripture to add weight to his assertions, but nothing that might pass as ‘secular’, or ‘objective’ proof.  Simultaneously the stage is set to allow other non-Islamic teachers into the Islamic religion as ‘prophets’ ultimately from Allah, who manifested in different places in different ways suitable to the prevailing conditions.  Of course, this is an Islamo-centric view of the world, and would today be defined as a ‘literalist’ approach to interpreting religious scripture.  My view is that Ahmad is mistaken to assume that Jesus influenced Buddhism, as only an outsider to Buddhism could think this.  Buddhism pre-dates Christianity by at least 500 to 1000 years (depending on when the Buddha actually lived).  By the time of Jesus in the 1st century CE, the Mahayanic phase of its development was very much underway.  Buddhism was spreading all over Asia, and soon reached China in this century.  All the Buddhist sutras claim their authority from the word of the Buddha.  The two that do not – the Vimalakirti Sutra and the Altar Sutra of Hui Neng – are said to be linked to the historical Buddha.  In the case of Vimalakirti – an enlightened layman, he lived at the sametime as the Buddha, and the Buddha and his disciples are featured heavily in the text. The Altar Sutra is linked directly to the Buddha through the Ch’an transmission that was initiated by the Buddha and eventually inherited by Hui Neng in 7th century CE China.  In all likelihood, I suspect that people from all different religious backgrounds became Buddhist monks – including Jews – but this does not mean that theological teachings were integrated into Buddhism, on the contrary, many became Buddhists to escape the constricting teachings of theology.  The basic principles of Buddhist teachings are these:

1) The Buddha never acknowledged monotheism as existing in his lifetime.

2)The Buddha associated a belief in polytheistic gods with delusion.

3) The Buddha taught that there is no theistic ‘soul’ to mediate between humanity and any mythological god-construct.

4) All experience in the material world is a consequence of cause and effect, which when mediated by the human will (volition), creates the agency of karma.  Suffering is relieved through purify karma and its effects (see Four Noble Truths).

5) The Buddha was not a god or a prophet of a god.

6) The Buddha emphasised wisdom and compassion outside of the Brahmanic religion of his day, which he viewed as corrupt.

7) The Buddha advocated the act of meditation to change thought patterns by an act of will, and the wise consideration of the conditions of life.  This self-reliance and self-empowerment has nothing to do with praying to a god-construct.

8) The Buddha’s enlightenment is premised upon the rational and logical use of the mind, within a self-disciplined body and his enlightenment is not premised upon the teachings of theistic religions.

9) The Buddha’s enlightenment is the uprooting of greed, hatred, and delusion, and the realisation of the non-substantiality of self.  It is not a communion with a god-construct.

10) Buddhist monks had no right or ability to add any ‘new’ teaches that were not believed to have been directly spoken by the Buddha.

11) There is no evidence in any Buddhist school that a Palestinian Jew was accepted in India as ‘Maitreya’. The concept of Maitreya is really a false-concept misinterpreted to make Buddhism appear to be a revelatory religion – which it is not.  In reality, Maitreya represents the Buddhahood yet to manifest in all living beings.

12) If Jesus had influenced Buddhism why stop with the odd saying?  As Jesus’s theistic teachings are very different to those of the scientific Buddha, why not force the Buddhists to accept a god-construct and soul theory?  This observation proves that it was Jesus who accommodated Buddhism, and not Buddhism that accommodated Christianity, although, of course, Jesus never gave-up his theistic beliefs.

Ahmad’s ideas are flawed in this regard, as Buddhism had spread across Asia far earlier than Christianity did.  In fact, during the life of Jesus (assuming he existed at all), Christianity was merely a small and localised non-conformist, Jewish sect.  Christianity did not significantly spread until hundreds of years after the assumed life of Jesus.  This type of theistic scholarship is interesting because it occasionally manifests interesting and diverse opinions, but invariably outside of secular knowledge.  Using revelatory scripture as ‘history’ is a category error, as what one sees in one’s mind is not necessarily a far reflection of what is happening in the concrete world, particularly if religion is used a an ‘escape’ from everyday life.  As there is no evidence that Jesus existed, any discussion as to whether he survived the cross are superfluous.  Jesus may or may not have survived the cross, just as he may or may not have existed.  Of course, if he did not exist, then it was the people that created his myth who were influenced by Buddhist teachings in the formulative stage.  The problem with theistic religion is that it grants its adherents a one-sided ‘specialness’ that is not present in nature.  The Buddha rejected this one-sidedness, whilst it constituted the entire point of Jesus’s alleged existence.

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