Ch'an Dao Links:
A Buddhist Response to Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (of Qadian)
By Adrian Chan-Wyles PhD
Author’s Note: This article is not an attack on Islam, and is not intended in any way to disrespect Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, or ridicule his beliefs. In fact, I have an ardent respect for Islam, and take the opportunity here, to enter into the cut and thrust of frank debate. This article is intended as an appraisal of Ahmad’s viewpoints and reconstructed history concerning Buddhism, from a modern, secular, and Buddhist perspective. In effect I am providing the perspective of a Buddhist who has encountered Ahmad’s beliefs for the first time, and assessing those beliefs from the point of view of the Buddha’s pristine logic. In this regard, I fully understand that scholarship regarding Buddhist studies was very much in its infancy during the late 1890’s, and that Ahmad was working in an astonishingly intelligent and imaginative fashion with the information he had available to him. He did not possess the advantage of being an ethnic Buddhist, or have access to the most up to date academic knowledge regarding Buddhism. He also seems to have had to work from English language sources for the Buddhist information he accessed – translating those sources into Urdu. I do not share this honourable man’s faith, but neither do I begrudge the fact that he possesses one. In my life I have always been treated well by Muslim people, and benefitted from Islamic civility. On the other hand, as a modern academic who does not possess any type of theological faith, I feel compelled to put pen to paper and answer Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, even though it has been well-over a hundred years since he penned his masterpiece ‘Jesus in India’. I think a distinctly ‘Buddhist’ response is required, as at no point in his expressed narrative does Ahmad consult ethnic or practising Buddhists about what they think of his ideas, as I suspect none would have agreed with him. In all the years I have studied the theory that Jesus may have visited India, I have never once been told that a Muslim scholar had contributed magnificently to this subject in 1899. Surely this omission is a grave injustice to the very well developed tradition of Islamic academia. I only heard about this work whilst walking down Sutton High Street recently, when I stopped by a small Islamic stall, and was given a free copy. I think any form of dialogue between Islam and Buddhism is to be welcomed in any positive format, with the differences between the two systems being acknowledged with respect rather than denigration. Peace and understanding is better than war and violence.
‘I have written this book so that by adducing proofs from established facts, conclusive historical evidence of proven value, and ancient documents of other nations, I might dispel the serious misconceptions which are current among Christians and most Muslim sects regarding the earlier and the later life of Jesus. The dangerous consequences of these misconceptions have not only hijacked and destroyed the concept of Tauhid – Divine Unity, but their insidious and poisonous influence has long been noticed in the moral condition of Muslims in this country. It is these baseless myths and tales that result in spiritual maladies, like immorality, malice, callousness, and cruelty, which are almost endemic among most Islamic sects. Virtues like human sympathy, compassion, affability, love of justice, meekness, modesty, and humility are disappearing by the day, as if they will soon bid a hasty farewell to them. This callousness and moral degradation makes many a Muslim appear only marginally different from wild beasts. A Jain or a Buddhist is afraid of killing even a mosquito or a flea and detests such an act, but alas! There are many among Muslims who would kill an innocent person with impunity and commit wanton murder without the lest fear of God Almighty.’
(Jesus in India: By Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Islamic International, (2015 – Introduction Pages 1-2 - originally written in 1889)
This book was completed in 1889, and published in 1908 in its original Urdu script (although it had been partly serialised prior to this date). It was not published in English translation until 1944 (in India). The subject matter of this book seeks to establish the following objectives:
1) The Jewish attitude toward Jesus Christ was morally bankrupt.
2) The established Christian belief that Jesus Christ died on the cross and was then ‘risen’ from the dead is wrong and a misinterpretation of the New Testament.
3) Jesus Christ lived the crucifixion by way of a conspiracy between Pontius Pilate, Joseph of Arimathea and others, who worked together to ensure his survival and escape from Palestine.
4) Jesus Christ subsequently travelled to Afghanistan, Kashmir and Tibet.
5) Whilst in India he taught Jewish Buddhist monks his message, and they in-turn then ‘altered’ the Buddhist suttas to integrate this new information into the Buddhist Canon.
6) Conventional Buddhism, although containing a morality of sorts, is ultimately wrong and incomplete without the influence of Jesus Christ.
7) Jesus Christ – being a prophet of god – is in fact the teacher of the Buddha, as the Buddha was just an ordinary man in comparison.
8) The Buddhists, in their ignorance, mistook Jesus Christ for the Buddha yet to come (i.e. ‘Mettayya’ in Pali, or ‘Maitreya’ in Sanskrit).
9) Contemporary Buddhism is a disguised form of Christianity, sullied by the heathen vestiges left-over from its pre-Jesus days.
Why would a very intelligent Islamic scholar spend so much time engaging in research regarding the non-theistic philosophy (or ‘perceptual science’) of Buddhism? Why would a man with a strong theistic ‘faith’ bother with what is in essence the ‘secular’ system of the Buddha? The answer is that as a North Indian, Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was very well aware of the ancient Buddhist history associated with that part of India. Furthermore, as he viewed himself as the reincarnation of Jesus Christ (effectively the ‘Second Coming’), and something akin to a combined representation of the ‘Messiah’ of Christian prophecy and future ‘Maitreya’ of Buddhist scripture. Ahmad requires (the otherwise ‘heathen’) Buddhist teachings to legitimise his claim to being the new manifestation of Jesus Christ, through the Buddhist prophecy of Maitreya, because he is a Muslim (with fair-skin) born in North India. Without his conflation of Buddhism with Christianity, and the merging of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ with the future Buddha Maitreya, Ahmad would have no more a claim to being an incarnation of Jesus than any other person, religious or otherwise. The faulty scholarship begins here with his incorrect assertion that the name ‘Mettayya’ (or ‘Maitreya’) has the same meaning as the Hebrew word ‘Messiah’ (Ahmad uses the transliteration of ‘Mashiha’ see Page 92). In both Pali and Sanskrit, the term ‘Mettayya’ (or ‘Maitreya’) simply means ‘he who possesses loving kindness’, or ‘metta’, whereas ‘messiah’ translates as the ‘anointed one’, or ‘one touched by god’s grace’. The progression of argument that Ahmad believes he has revealed is that the historical Buddha foretold the coming of Jesus Christ to India, and that he was not talking about simply another enlightened being. Ahmad simply has the Buddha arbitrarily abandon his ‘inferior’ secular philosophy of perceptual science, and replace it with the very theology he had abandoned when he realised enlightenment. The ‘ignorant’ and ‘misled’ Buddhists of the 1st century CE understood Jesus Christ to be ‘Maitreya’, but did not understand the theological import of their encounter. With this narrative in place, the stage is set for Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad to be recognised as the ‘Second Coming’ of Jesus Christ, and perhaps the real ‘Maitreya’. Once the story of Jesus is transplanted from Palestine to India, then the location for his ‘second Coming’ is also transplanted from Palestine to India (as Jesus, in all likelihood, will be reborn an ‘Indian’ man). It is the Buddha’s ancient prophecy in India that Ahmad uses to facilitate this transformation from Buddha, to Christ to the modern Islamic reincarnation of Christ. This is why Ahmad makes this point one of his central issues, and dedicates such time and effort to prove it correct. Buddhism is the doorway to his status as the revealed reincarnation of Jesus Christ – albeit from an Islamic perspective. This is why it is imperative that Jesus Christ is seen to have survived the cross and visited India, eventually dying and being buried there, in a tomb in Kashmir.
The Islamic scholar Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (1835-1908) was from the area of the Indian Punjab known as Qadian. He believed he was the incarnation of Jesus Christ, and in so doing, viewed himself as being the fulfilment of Islamic scriptural prophecy. When 40 years old, his father died, and it is from this point in his life that he started communicating directly with god. Following divine intervention, Ahmad founded the Ahmadiyya Movement in 1889, which emphasised the oneness of god, and the rejuvenation of Islam across the world in its morally pristine form. Through this mission, Ahmad attempted to integrate as many of the great religious and spiritual leaders in world history with Islam, by elevating such visionaries as Zoroaster, Krishna, Buddha and Confucius to the status of Prophets of Allah. However, mainstream Islam does recognise the claims of the Ahmadiyya Movement as being representative of authentic Islam. Most Muslims, for instance, do not recognise Ahmad as the reincarnation of Jesus Christ, but state that Jesus has still yet to return. In his 1899 book entitled ‘Jesus in India’, Ahmad treads a thin path of appearing to eulogise Buddhism on the one-hand (because he thinks Jesus was instrumental in making it a world-class religion), whilst criticising it on the other for being a fabrication of ‘Aryan’ dishonesty. Ahmad’s assumptions are obviously incorrect in their conclusions, as he is trying to co-opt the non-Islamic, and non-theological teachings of the logical and rational Buddha, into the theology of Islam, via the person of Jesus Christ. Obviously Ahmad cannot link the far older Buddhism with the much later Mohammed (peace be upon him), and so he attempts to link the earlier Jesus with 1st century CE Buddhism in North India. To do this he must misinterpret Buddhist history and philosophy, reducing both to Islamic theological rhetoric. The following is a direct quote from Ahmad, encapsulating the entire thrust of his ‘Jesus influenced Buddhism’ theory:
‘The question now arises as to why there was so much resemblance between the Buddha and Jesus. The Aryans in this connection say that Jesus, God forbid, became acquainted with Buddhism in the course of his journeys in India, and having acquainted with Buddhism in the course of his journeys in India, and having acquired knowledge of the facts of Buddha's life, incorporated them in the Gospel on return to his native country; that Jesus composed his moral precepts by plagiarising the moral teaching of the Buddha, and that just as the Buddha called himself the Light and Knowledge and adopted other titles, so did Jesus assume all such titles, so much so, that, even the long story of the Temptation of the Buddha was appropriated by him. This, however, is no more than a dishonest fabrication by the Aryas. It is quite untrue that Jesus came to India before the event of the cross, for he did not need to undertake such a journey at the time. The need for it arose only after the Jews of Judea had rejected him and, as far as they were concerned, crucified him. He had, however, been saved by a subtle divine intervention. Jesus felt that he had done his duty in conveying the message to the Jews of that country, and that they did not deserve compassion anymore. Then, on being informed by God that the ten tribes of the Jews had migrated towards India, Jesus set out for those regions. As some of the Jews had accepted Buddhism, there was no alternative for this true prophet but to turn his attention to the followers of Buddhism. As the Buddhist priests of that country were waiting for the "Messiah Buddha" to appear, they hailed Jesus as the Buddha considering all the signs like his titles, and his moral teachings like "love thine enemy" and "do not resist evil," and the Buddha's prophecy about fair skin. It is also possible that some of the titles and teachings and facts of Jesus' life may, consciously or unconsciously, have at that time been ascribed to the Buddha; for the early Indians never had any scruples about recording history objectively. The events of Buddha’s life had not been recorded till the time of Jesus. Buddhist priests, therefore, had ample room to ascribe to the Buddha anything they wished. It is quite likely, therefore, that when they came to know of the facts of Jesus’ life and his moral teaching, they mixed them up with many of their own innovations and ascribed them to the Buddha.’
(Jesus in India: By Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Islamic International, (2015 – Pages 86-87)
A list of reasons why Ahmad believes Jesus influenced Buddhism are as follows (found in Chapter Four – Section Two – Pages 83-84)
1) Jesus visited Tibet (Page 83)
2) Jesus refers to himself as ‘light’, Buddha = ‘light’ in Sanskrit (Page 83)
3) Jesus is called ‘master’ in the gospels, whilst Buddha is referred to as ‘Saasta’ in the Buddhist sutras (Page 83-84)
4) Jesus is called ‘blessed’ in the gospels, whilst Buddha is referred to as ‘Sugt – ‘blessed’ (Page 84)
5) Jesus and Buddha both referred to as ‘prince’ (Page 84)
6) Jesus and Siddhartha = he who comes to fulfil the object of his coming (Page 84)
7) Jesus is a refuge; Buddha is the Asarn Sarn – the refuge of the refugeless (Page 84)
8) Jesus and Buddha both referred to as ‘king’ (Page 84)
9) Jesus and Buddha both tempted by the devil (page 84)
10) Gospels of Jesus compiled much earlier than Buddhist scriptures (Page 84)
There is no objective historical evidence that Jesus visited Tibet. This is in fact a Eurocentric myth created Nicolas Notovich (1856-1916) as a means to sell his 1894 book ‘Life of Saint Issa, Best of the Sons of Men’. The name ‘Issa’ is apparently the Arabic word for ‘Jesus’. Notovich claimed to have seen a Buddhist scripture in a Buddhist temple in Ladakh during an alleged visit in 1887, that recorded a visit to the Tibetan area of China by a Palestinian Jew whilst a young man (i.e. prior to his crucifixion), where he learned the Buddhist teachings, which he then took back to the Middle East – the implication being that the later Christianity was in fact a distortion of Buddhist philosophy. The famous expert on Buddhist philosophy, and world-renowned translator - Max Muller (1823-1900) - immediately questioned Notovich’s account, and wrote to the Head Monk of the Ladakh temple to enquire about the truthfulness of the claims. The Head Monk replied that no Westerner had visited the temple in 15 years, and that there was no such Buddhist scripture recording Jesus in Tibet. Ahmad appears to premise his entire theory on the dubious authority of Notovich’s book – and simply inverted or reversed the conclusions. Instead of Jesus being influenced by the much earlier Buddhist philosophy, the argument was turned the other way around, and Jesus is presented as being a unique prophet of god who possesses the spiritual power to ‘alter’ Buddhist teaching as he came into contact with it. In other words, Buddhism was ‘Christianised’, and Christianity remained ‘pure’ and ‘unsullied’ by Buddhism. This is, of course, religiously inspired nonsense. Interestingly, Ahmad asserts that Max Muller ascribed to the idea that the teachings of Jesus may have been influenced by Buddhism (referencing Page 517 of the October 1894 issue of the periodical The Nineteenth Century). Ahmad then refers to Max Muller as a ‘Christian’, when it was well known in the UK (where lived and worked at Oxford University) that he most assuredly was not a Christian. In fact, his lack of ‘faith’ in this regard, and his purely ‘academic’ approach to the study of objective fact, often cost him important academic posts. Max Muller was a modern person who assessed religious claims on their objectively ascertained ‘truth’ or ‘lack’ of truth. As religion is premised upon ‘faith’ in that which cannot be seen, a blind acceptance of dogma is not considered ‘logical’ or ‘reasonable’. The Buddha would have agreed with Max Muller. Ahmad, of course, states that Max Muller is correct to observe a link between Buddhism and Christianity, but wrong in the discerned direction of travel. Ahmad states that from an Islamic perspective, it is disrespectful to assume that the prophet of god (i.e. ‘Jesus’), was a ‘disciple’ of the Buddha, and more in accordance with the will of god to assume that the Buddha (an ordinary man), was a disciple of Jesus (and therefore of god).
The Buddha lived either 1000 or 500 years before Jesus, and the Buddhist teachings were first written down not at the time of Jesus (as Ahmad incorrectly asserts), but rather a century earlier (in Ceylon). The teachings of the Buddha were passed on by word of mouth both before and after this time, with monks ‘remembering’ the entire Buddhist Canon. One of the main injunctions for the Buddhist monks is that the teachings must not be altered or modified in anyway. Ahmad misunderstands the Buddhist philosophy and Buddhist history – despite his otherwise erudite style of evidence gathering and presentation. Buddhist monks have never ‘compiled’ the Buddhist scriptures as was common with Judaism, Christianity and Islam. As Buddhism is a tradition of realised wisdom, it has no place whatsoever for revelatory intrigues, the type of which Ahmad is perpetuating. As Buddhism is a science of perception, the Buddha has no place for a belief in a god, or indeed a soul theory. When all this is taken into account, Ahmad’s theory with regards to Buddhism, fails at every juncture. Ahmad is presumably using his status of a reincarnation of Jesus to facilitate a different interpretation of history that defies a) objective evidence, and b) common sense. The assumption is that he possesses the memories of Jesus Christ from the 1st century CE, and is informing the world what actually happened, when in fact there is no objective evidence that Jesus existed in the 1st century CE (or at any other time). To be fair to Ahmad, he shows an extraordinary alacrity of mind, and in a sort of begrudging sense, he does acknowledge that Buddhism is very old, and that it does possess its own admirable morality. However, as Buddhism is not from the Judeo-Christian lineage, it remains outside of the accepted and valid paths acknowledged by Islamic thinking. Therefore, whilst ignoring the non-Islamic nature of Buddhist philosophy, Ahmad attempts to co-opt Buddhist thinking in the sphere of Christianity. In so doing, he attempts to reduce rational Buddhism to the level of irrational theology. All the other petty associations between Buddhism and Christianity are either meaningless coincidence, or perhaps the influence of Buddhism upon Christianity. However, if Jesus was influenced by Buddhism, this did not affect his essentially ‘non-Buddhist’ theistic beliefs. It is probably more likely that the early Christian ideologues borrowed from Buddhism in a superficial manner (as they really did not understand it in any depth), as a means to distinguish an emerging Christianity from the Judaism it was rapidly breaking away from. This habit of assimilation of non-Hebrew traditions by a developing Christian church can be observed in its appropriation of the Greek language and Greek philosophy (albeit in altered or distorted form), as the basis of the theology of the New Testament. This fits-in with the idea that Jesus may not have existed at all, but was a re-working by dissident or discontented Jews in Judea, of much earlier pagan legends, such as that of the story of the Persian god Mithras or the Greek god Dionysus. Finally, despite Ahmad’s ability to pull disparate facts together to support his theory, there is a definite strand of ‘anti-Buddhism’ running through the centre of his narrative. This extract is typical of this trend:
‘It is recorded on the authority of the book named Mahavagga (page 54 section 1) that a man called Rahulta was a successor to the Buddha. This Rahulta has been described not only as his devoted disciple, but also as his son. I am convinced that Rahulta of Buddhistic records is none other than Ruhullah, which is one of Jesus’ titles and reads as Rahulta due to phonetic variation. To say that Rahulta was the son of the Buddha, who abandoned his child in infancy, went into exile and, wishing to part from his wife for good, left her asleep and without informing her or saying farewell, and fled to some other land, is altogether absurd and derogatory to the high spiritual station of the Buddha. It portrays him as a cruel and hard-hearted man who had no compassion for his poor wife and left her asleep and slunk away like a thief without saying a word of consolation to her. He altogether ignored the duties he owed to her as a husband, neither divorcing her nor asking her permission to proceed on an endless journey, wounded her heart by disappearing so suddenly and did not care to send her even a single letter and took no pity on his child who grew up to manhood in his absence. Could such a man, who had no respect for the morals he taught his disciples, be righteous?’
(Jesus in India: By Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, Islamic International, (2015 – Page 100)
The Buddha’s son Rahula, of course, eventually became a very proficient Buddhist monk, exercising no bonds of familial attachment to his father – the Buddha – who was his teacher. The Buddha’s wife – Yasodhara – apparently watched the steady progress of her former husband at a distance, and in time joined the Buddhist order of nuns – where she eventually realised enlightenment. Ahmad’s viewpoint is Islamo-centric and does not display any true understanding of the Buddha’s path of uprooting greed, hatred and delusion. As Indian society was not Islamic, and given that the Buddha was not a Muslim, there was no reason for him to behave in an Islamic manner. Within Indian society, leaving home was not only considered a very important habit of the Brahmanic tradition, but was seen as vital by many different spiritual sects as a pre-cursor to breaking the bounds of attachment to carnality and worldly affairs. Just as a Muslim leaves home and attends the mosque (where he is segregated from his wife) to commune with Allah, just so, a committed Buddhist leaves home and sits at the bottom of a tree to commune with a mind-essence free of greed, hatred, and delusion. For the Buddha it is much more karmically significant for humanity to realise the empty state of non-greed, non-hatred, non-desire and non-self, than it is to apply the strictures of a sentimentalist morality stemming from theological idealism. This is because the Buddha seeks to uproot the ignorance in the mind that gives rise to belief in theistic religions, and the development of theology that inevitably follows. The Buddha clearly states that when greed, hatred, and delusion are uprooted, belief in gods (probably conditioned by Brahmanic society) automatically cease, as it is understood that they do not exist in reality. Of course, the Buddha does not mention Judaism, Christianity or Islam, as these religions either did not yet exist, or did not exist in India. The Buddha’s path is one of superior moral behaviour that is self-imposed (from the Vinaya Discipline), and is not reliant upon a god-construct for its efficacy. The Buddha taught in a common-sense manner – do bad things and create bad situations, and bad things and bad situations will envelop you. Eradicate bad thoughts and behaviour (delusion) from the mind and body, and all negativity ceases. What Ahmad perceives as the ‘bad’ behaviour of the Buddha, is in fact the very ignorance the Buddha strives to uproot. The path of Jesus seeks to do good acts, that is correct, but nowhere in his teaching does he state that the underlying psychological traits that generate painful thoughts and motivate dreadful behaviour, should be a) recognised as such, and b) uprooted through spiritual practice, although it is true that the strict Christian monasteries tend to purify the mind through prayers, contemplation, and simple living, so that it might be ‘emptied’ to receive god’s grace. Perhaps another example of how the far older monastic tradition of Buddhism influenced the development of the much later Christian monasticism. Whereas the Buddha transcends the requirement to ‘believe’ with ‘faith’ in a theistic entity to escape suffering, Jesus (and Islam for that matter) remain fully wedded to the concept of a theistic religion as the only legitimate means for humanity to be ‘saved’. As a consequence of this dogmatic stance, everything in the universe is separated into ‘good’ or ‘evil’ elements, with everything good being co-opted into theism, and everything evil being rejected away, and out of theism. Ahmad clearly demonstrates this tendency by both embracing certain aspects of Buddhism that serve his cause, and firmly rejecting those aspects of Buddhism that contradict his cause. The problem with Ahmad’s research is that what he embraces within Buddhism, he misinterprets (from a Buddhist perspective), and what he rejects (as being un-Islamic and against god) is the very functional essence of what makes Buddhism unique amongst emancipatory world philosophies and religions. The Buddha freed himself from human suffering by an act of will, and not by an act of faith in an external, divine authority.
©opyright: Adrian Chan-Wyles (ShiDaDao) 2016.