Mahayana Buddhism as a Comparison in Christian Origins

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Mahayana Buddhism as a Comparison in Christian Origins

Post by ABuddhist »

I thought that these thoughts might interest enough people to deserve their own thread. These thoughts consist of three parts: the parallels, the background information, and the speculation.

The Parallels

Within Mahayana Buddhism, we have several striking parallels to the mythicist (and in some ways the non-mythicist) model of Christian origins:

1. A heavenly saviour figure (Amitabha Buddha) whose salvation is based upon his followers' faith in him, but whose salvific deeds are not located upon Earth.

2. A heavenly figure (Maitreya Buddha), who in the future will supposedly come to Earth as a saviour but in the meantime sends messages to devoted followers (cf., the description of how the Revelation to John was received by John).

3. Competing models of salvation associated with different sects (of which I have not even touched upon Bhaiṣajya-guru-vaiḍūrya-prabhā-rāja) (cf., the controversy about works and faith within the Christians' scriptures).

The Background Information

As further elaborations upon this theme, I provide the following summary of relevant information.

Standard Buddhist cosmology indeed talks about many Buddhas, but in Mahayana Buddhism (the tradition in which Amitabha Buddha is a figure), there are multiple inhabited worlds, some of which, including our world, have been made repositories of Buddhas' teachings, and some of which, not including our world, have Buddhas living and teaching upon them. Amitabha Buddha is said to live and teach within the world Sukhavati, where all Buddhists throughout the universe can be reborn (his partisans insist) if we have faith in him. According to the Buddhist Scriptures discussing Amitabha Buddha at length, Amitabha Buddha's entire career, from his vows as the monk Dharmākara to achieve Buddhahood billions of billions of years ago through his accumulation of merit over billions of billions of years to his final death billions of billions of years in the future, is never upon this world but always in other worlds.

Our world, according to all Buddhist traditions, has been graced by several Buddhas and will be graced in the future by the Buddha Maitreya (Sanskrit) or Metteyya (Pali). Buddhism as it now exists upon this Earth was founded by the Buddha Shakyamuni.

In Mahayana Buddhism, the Buddha Maitreya is said to have revealed from Tushita Heaven several treatises about reality to Asanga, which Mahayana Buddhists highly revere as scripture.

In Mahayana Buddhism, Amitabha Buddha is said to be not alone in his efforts; Akshobhya Buddha is also said (in the Akṣobhyatathāgatasyavyūha Sūtra) to offer salvation to Buddhists throughout the universe in another world, Abhirati.

According to the book "Bodhisattvas Of The Forest And The Formation Of The Mahayana: A Study And Translation Of The Rastrapalapariprccha-sutra", by Daniel Boucher, until circa 400 CE, Mahayana Buddhism seems to have been a very marginal movement within what is now India (where Buddhism originated), to say nothing of Indian Buddhism.

Asanga was active, it is said, during the 4th century CE.

The earliest surviving Mahayana Buddhist artifacts are from Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Early Mahayana Buddhist missionaries whom we have records of were not from modern India: An Shigao, an early Buddhist missionary to China, and the earliest known translator of Indian Buddhist texts into Chinese, was Parthian; Lokaksema was born in modern Afghanistan and achieved greatness under the Kushans and in China, etc.

All but the very earliest Mahayana Buddhist scriptures are filled with condemnation of earlier forms of Buddhism and claims that Mahayana Buddhism is the true and highest form of Buddhism.

The Speculation
I personally think that Mahayana Buddhism, like Christianity, was originally a movement that rose to prominence outside of its homeland due to charismatic preachers (and fabricators!) of what they presented as true Buddhism (centred upon various celestial Buddhas and forged scriptures) to people outside of India. Only with such foreign support, I believe, was Mahayana Buddhism able to establish itself as a notable presence in what is now India.

Similarly, Paul and people like Paul, Hellenized themselves (when not Hellenes!), spreaded what they presented as the "true, highest" form of Judaism (centred upon Jesus Christ) through the Hellenized portions of the Roman Empire - and often competed with each other. In reality, they were fabricating their evidence. Only with support from the Roman Empire was Christianity able to establish itself as a notable presence in the Jews' homeland.

I must emphasize that when I mention that early Christian preachers were fabricating their evidence, I am not endorsing mythicism - although others may see it this way. Rather, I mean that they were fabricating pseudographa (such as the Deutero-Pauline letters), and were distorting Jews' scriptures through selective quotations and tortured reasoning in order to justify their claims.

I hope that these words can be useful and thought-provoking.
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