Resemblances Between the Buddhist and Roman Catholic Religions

The Tibetan lama listened respectfully to the Jesuit priest and replied, "Your religion is the same as ours."

Those who strive to establish a monopoly of labor are accustomed to sneer at the Chinese as “Pagans.” They urge that citizenship ought not to be granted to them, because their religion is different from ours. Yet those who talk in this way make no objection to receiving Irish emigrants and intrusting them with the elective franchise. But is the Buddhist religion, which prevails in China, much more foreign to our customs and our modes of thinking and believing than the Roman Catholic religion is? There are, in fact, many striking resemblances between the two, and in some particulars the parallel is so close that it is difficult to perceive any difference, except in names. I will verify this declaration by pointing out some of the most obvious points of similarity.

Buddha Sakia — which means the Holy Sakia, or Saint Sakia — is reverenced by his numerous followers as Christians reverence Jesus Christ. The date of his birth is veiled in obscurity, and varies much in different countries. According to Mongol records it was two thousand one hundred and thirty-four years before the Christian era; but, according to Chinese records, it was one thousand twenty-nine years. Sir William Jones and other learned Oriental scholars, who have examined the subject, think they find sufficient evidence that lie came into this world about a thousand years before Christ.

The Hindoo Trinity Consists of Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva; often represented by an image with one body and three heads. The populace worship these as separate gods, but the more intelligent say: “There is but One First Cause, One Supreme Source of Being, who is invisible, infinite, and incomprehensible. We say Brahma creates, Vishnu preserves, and Siva destroys; but all these expressions denote but One Supreme Being.”

Buddha Sakia is believed to have been an incarnation of Vishnu. His advent upon this earth is thus described: “He who is omnipresent and everlastingly to be contemplated, the Supreme Being, the Eternal One, the Divinity worthy to be adored, appeared in this ocean of natural beings, with a portion of his divine nature.” He was born into a family of a kingly line. His mother is said to have been a Virgin named Maia, who conceived him by a ray of light. His birth was foretold by a miraculous dream, and when he was born, a marvellous light shone all around. A holy hermit in far-off forests received supernatural information that Vishnu had just become incarnated in a human form. He flew through the air to the place indicated, and said, “I come to see the new-born child.” As soon as he looked upon him, he pronounced him to be an incarnation of Vishnu, who had come into the world to introduce a new religion. The Buddhist Sacred Books describe him as having left the joys of Paradise and descended to this earth because he was filled with compassion for the sins and sufferings of mankind — It being a divine law that every sin must be atoned for by an ordained amount of suffering, he relinquished his princely rank, denied himself all worldly pleasures, and underwent severe penances, that he might thereby expiate the sins of mortals. So great was his tenderness, that he even descended into the hells to teach the souls in bondage there, and by his own sufferings abridge their period of punishment. By the perfect holiness of his life he was enabled to ascend to Paradise without dying. The rocks in various countries are covered with inscriptions and sculptures recording his sayings and doings. In some places he is represented as crushed a serpent under his heel. Many titles are bestowed upon him: such as “Lion of the Race of Sakia,” “Lord of the Earth,” “Son of Maia,” “Dispenser of Grace”; but his most common title is “The Saviour of the World.” The Buddhist Sacred ‘Writings describe him as “One with the Supreme from all eternity”; as “one substance and three images.” By prayers offered in his name, his followers expect to secure for themselves the rewards of Paradise, and to become one with him, as he was one with the Supreme Being. They believe he will again appear on earth to bring mankind into a state of order and happiness.

Hindoos believed themselves to be exclusively intrusted with revelations of divine truth. They held no communication with foreigners, regarding then as spiritually unclean, because they had not been purified according to their own religious rites. The laws of their Sacred Books divided society into four castes, and the higher castes became polluted by any companionship with the lower. Buddha Sakia conformed in the main to the religious doctrines, ceremonies, and customs of his native land; but he sought to introduce several important reforms, the most offensive of which was his abrogation of the laws of caste. Many centuries before his time, it was a very common thing for Hindoo devotees to retire from the world and live in the depths of forests, where they devoted themselves to perpetual prayer and to the mortification of the senses by a variety of painful penances, as the appointed means of becoming one with the Supreme Being, — an object which was with them paramount to all others. These devotees gained such great reputation for wisdom and holiness, that they were believed to be inspired teachers and workers of miracles. The young flocked to them in great numbers to be instructed; and in this way religious communities grew up in the forests, tilling the solemn silence with their prayers and psalms. Women were not allowed to devote themselves to this saintly life; and the lower castes, as well as foreigners, were rigorously excluded from these religious instructions. Buddha Sakia rejected these narrow limitations. He declared that the road to oneness with God was open to all the world, natives and foreigners, high and low, men and women. This is recorded as one of his sayings: “All men are equal; and my doctrines are a favor and grace to all mankind.” The priestly caste, called Brahmins, despised him for this, and said sneeringly, “ He and his disciples teach even mean and criminal men, and most wrongfully admit them to a state of grace.” As the new sect increased, its innovations not only offended the spiritual pride of the Brahmins, but also alarmed their selfishness; for if all men were allowed to become teachers of righteousness, the hereditary priesthood must, as an inevitable consequence, find its importance and its revenues diminished. Persecution waxed hotter and hotter. Great numbers of Buddhists were put to death. They were finally driven entirely out of Hindostan, where the sect has been extinct for many centuries. But persecution only fired them with increased zeal for their doctrines, which they preached in all the surrounding regions. It is said that eighty thousand Buddhists went forth from Hindostan as missionaries to other lands. Their doctrines spread peacefully and quietly, but with wonderful rapidity. Their religion now prevails in China, Japan, Thibet, Ceylon, the Birman Empire, and a large part of Tartary. Its votaries are computed at four hundred millions, — more than one third of the whole human race. The birth of Buddha Sakia is the era from which many nations count. His followers everywhere consider Hindostan as their Holy Land, and great numbers of them make pilgrimages to Benares, which they especially regard as their Holy City.

Thousands of years ago, the Hindoo hermits and communities of saints, who lived in the forests, were accustomed to go through their ritual of many prayers by the help of strings of beads. Buddhists have retained this ancient habit. Pilgrims are constantly met on their way to Benares repeating prayers incessantly, while they pass their fingers over long strings of beads, just as Catholic pilgrims, on their way to Jerusalem or Rome, may be seen performing their devotions by the help of rosaries.

Centuries before Buddha Sakia was born, it was one of the leading doctrines of the Hindoos that each individual sin must be expiated by an exact admeasurement of suffering, and its consequences averted or diminished by a prescribed number of prayers; and it was believed that these penances could be borne and these prayers repeated efficaciously by proxy. Hence, if a man inflicted upon himself more penances and recited more prayers than were necessary for the expiation of his own sins, the overplus might be placed to the credit of deceased relatives or friends, whose term of punishment was supposed to be abridged thereby. As prayers were deemed efficacious in proportion to the holiness of the intercessor, it became a general practice to pay priests for reciting prayers for the dead. This mode of helping souls out of purgatory brings in a large revenue to the Buddhist priesthood as well as to the Roman Catholic.

Presented by

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register with Disqus.

Please note that The Atlantic's account system is separate from our commenting system. To log in or register with The Atlantic, use the Sign In button at the top of every page.

blog comments powered by Disqus