319th Meeting – Tuesday, January 12th 2010
“Dharma as Man” A Myth of Jesus in Buddhist Lands
A talk by the author Dr. Lindsay Falvey
Present: Kate and Ken Ahn, Mark and Diane Barber-Riley, Karin Bode, Bodil Blokker, James E. Bogle, Devimer Gregorio Bragat, Steve Brooks, John and Martha Butt, John Cadet, Patricia Cheesman, Rainer Einzenberger, Simone Falvey-Behr, Carolyn Fleig, Bob and Fran German, Suzan Götz, Carol Grodzins, Orlane Guinot, Ivan Hall, Sjon Hauser, Janet Illeni, David James, Mohammad Jest, Ken Kampe, Paddy Linehan, Jacques and Ploy Leider, Joyce and Susan Morgan, Betty Nanyen, Omiip, Editha Schulz, Irene Stengs, Bob and Carol Stratton, Suriya Smutkupt; Celeste Tolibas-Holland, Edward van Tuyll, Unreadable, Michael Varga, René Vines, John Wickenden, Woraphong Manlichoot. An audience of 46.
A summary of the evening’s talk and presentation prepared by Lindsay:
Dharma as Man: The Gospel Story in Buddhist Terms
Summary: The book, ‘Dharma as Man’ is styled as a novel to relate the Christian Gospel story in Buddhist concepts in an Indian setting. That story is read aloud by an aging father to his precocious young son over several evenings in a parallel story. The book is the product of a series of similar adventures in Buddhist-Christian dialogue beginning with inspiration from agricultural research drawn from interpretations of Buddhadasa Bhikkhu’s lectures in Chiang Mai in 1967, which led to a series of vaguely related publications. The first was a 2000 academic book of Thai agriculture which led to a 2002 translation of an earlier talk given by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu. Then came the 2002 Buddhistic version of the so-called ‘Q’ document of the possibly original sayings of Jesus as the book ‘The Buddha’s Gospel’, which was followed a 2007 novella ‘Reaching the Top’ about a young man’s search for meaning. Later came a 2008 ‘translation’ of the most existential and Buddhistic book of the Old Testament, Ecclesiastes, into rhyming couplets of Buddhist concepts. This latest product, ‘Dharma as Man’ is not religious in any belief-based sense and is part of attempts to explain the sameness of the underlying messages of the two traditions, retaining their down-to-earthness, humour and at times, anti-social characters.
Religion is invoked as the cause of so much confusion and violence involving all mainstream traditions. Religious dialogue is often seen as a means of defusing some of this misguided passion. It is also seen by some as an end in itself – a reason for theologians to have conferences. But to me, these all miss the point. Just as religion is more an excuse than a reason for differences, so the essence of religion is not amenable to discussion of differences under the rubric of dialogue. And this is because, quite simply, the essence may be better understood by seeking parallels and similarities that point to the same underlying message. This is not a glib recital of such trite statements as ‘all religions teach us to be good …’, it is the result of countless great minds across millennia who have been open to a world beyond their own cultures. It is what, for example, Alfred North Whitehead meant when he paraphrased two traditions in the words; ‘The Buddha gave his doctrine to enlighten the world: Christ gave his life. It is for Christians to discern the doctrine. Perhaps in the end the most valuable part of the doctrine of the Buddha is its interpretation of his [Jesus] life’.
It is in that spirit that I discuss my recent book, ‘Dharma and Man: A Myth of Jesus in Buddhist Lands’. It is, for me at least, a bridge between traditions that have formed large parts of my life, and which I now see commencing their own dialogue in Western society. I will later explain why I wrote that book, but first let me describe the process that led to it.
In 1967 here in Chiang Mai, a
momentous step in
Buddhist-Christian dialogue occurred. At the Thailand Theological
what is now
Why was Buddhadasa’s presentation so significant? The reason I give this paper is that he attempted to use Christian terminology to explain the essence of Buddhism – not Thai Buddhism, but essential Buddhism. Not only did he note such matters as others had done and continue to do, such as the similarity of Matthew 5:17 to the Mahasihanada Sutta Majjhima-Nikaya 12/37/46 and the Golden Rule of Matthew 7:12 to Dhammapada 129-130, but he also open-mindedly sought equivalents to Christian concepts that are routinely denied to exist in Buddhism. The obvious example is God. If one had to define the role that Buddhadasa saw God fulfilling for the Christians with whom he came in contact, then he chose Dependent Origination (Conditioned Co-Production). This, I consider to be extremely generous, and of course it is fraught with potential for misunderstanding. But it is consistent with his thesis that everyday language allocates only superficial meanings to the words about personal development or spiritual matters. This approach led to deep understanding such as his disciple Santikaro explained about the paradox of Matthew 10:39 – ‘he who loses his life for my sake will find it’ being correlated by Buddhadasa with the loss of the egotistical self.
I have dwelt upon this point in order to emphasize its centrality to the approach of the works I am discussing, and in particular to ‘Dharma as Man’, which itself is an evolutionary product of a path defined by periodical milestones, some in the form of publications.
Milestones in Publications
My first foray into the field – and please recall that none of my higher credentials are in religion – was to include a chapter on ‘Agriculture, Environment and Values’ in a detailed book entitled ‘Thai Agriculture: Golden Cradle of Millennia’. This was a comprehensive and in some cases subjective collation about the origins and evolution of Thai agriculture from diverse Thai and global resources. That unusual chapter included some aspects of Thai Buddhism with its inclusive animistic attitudes that had been fostered in recent decades into environmental language. Research for the chapter brought me into deeper contact with words of Buddhadasa whom I quoted in that otherwise academic book.
It was this exposure that led me to visit his forest temple at Suanmokh and eventually to translate a talk given by Buddhadasa to Agricultural Officials in 1991 at Chaiya as ธรรมน้าทเกษตร. The lecture may be best approached as significant religious teaching using agriculture as an example, rather than as a discussion on agriculture for religious persons. Nevertheless, the key role of agriculture as a means of illustrating such traits as acquisitiveness and separation from the natural environment form part of the extensive Buddhist literature with which Buddhadasa had been imbued by a lifetime of study and spiritual practice.
The translation summarized it thus, ‘This lecture to agricultural educators and officials uses dual meanings of key words as a mechanism to explain the deepest teachings of Buddhism in terms related to agriculture. It begins by interpreting the essential truth of and indeed the etymological origins of Dhamma as a duty and the performance of one’s duty. It uses the Thai word for nature to introduce the linkage between the Dhamma and responsibilities of everyday life as a duty because life may be considered as borrowed from nature. In this context looking out for oneself selfishly is seen as the opposite of moral or natural behaviour, yet it is recognised as the basis of current society and agriculture. Development of society, economy, and one’s spirituality are explained in terms of correct or unskilful development, with the conclusion that the primary duty of humans is their personal spiritual development to understand the true nature of all existence An analogy of life and rice cultivation includes introductory historical and contextual comment before relating moral behaviour to traditional rice cultivation conducted communally to everyone’s best ability to provide a harvest of personal peace and calm.’
From this experience, I found two trains captured my mind. One was a detailed and learned study that evolved after four years into the book ‘Religion and Agriculture: Sustainability in Christianity and Buddhism’, which analysed the roots of the popular morality of environmentalism. It concluded that the essence of neither tradition related to modern environmental evangelism. I shall not discuss that work further in this paper, except to note what I continue to feel is an often underappreciated and critical source of agriculture as the means for our urban sedentarization and occupational specializations that produced the great codified religious traditions. The second train developed into consideration of similarities between the essential nature of early Buddhist and pre-Christian writings, which found expression as ‘The Buddha’s Gospel’.
‘The Buddha’s Gospel: A Buddhist Interpretation of Jesus’ Words’ took as its base, sayings that some theologians assert may be attributable directly to Jesus, free of the later additions that make the Gospels part of the rich literature of the New Testament. These possible words of Jesus elicited by textual analysis comes out as a group of sayings of different levels of probability of age and authenticity in a document simply referred to as ‘Q’, which refers to ‘source’ or ‘quelle’ in German. These words seemed to me to be so similar to those of the oldest Buddhist scripture, the Dhammapada, and so I undertook to render them into Buddhist terminology, thereby revealing their common theme. The book included some discussion of the congruence between the two traditions in terms of shared elements of history and practices.
The process of preparing ‘The Buddha’s Gospel’ was personally developmental, and the text itself attracted some interest, such that a summary was introduced, in another connection with Chiang Mai, in a presentation to the International Conference on Religion and Globalization conference of the Institute for the Study of Religion and Culture in 2003. Of course, the idea of rendering one tradition into the words of another is not unique, but it is not usually undertaken by scholars within specific disciplines and in many cases is in fact frowned upon. Unbound by any such conventions, I naively persisted and enjoyed an entertaining international correspondence that followed and further stimulated by own self-understanding.
The experience of communicating about spiritual matters brought me into contact with a wider circle, and interestingly brought a number of equally secular friends into a closer interchange. And from these discussions, it seemed to me that a common experience could be detected, which I again attempted to capture in print. It proved evasive until I finally found that the only communicable form within my limited capabilities was fiction. Never having written fiction before – in fact not having read much unless it was deemed ‘high quality’ – I needed to challenge my own prejudices, for surely I would not be able to meet my own arrogant standards! By 2007, these efforts had yielded fruit in the form of a short novel.
‘Reaching the Top: All Paths
are True on the
This may seem a strange pedigree for the book I am introducing here but it is, as I see it, part of a series of conditions that have led to the book ‘Dharma as Man’.
Dharma as Man
as Man: A Myth of Jesus in
novel that builds on these preceding works. It may appear similar to
Buddha’s Gospel’ introduced above, yet it relies equally on
the other works for
its inspiration and approach. The cover describes it thus:
‘“Dharma as Man” is an ancient story
read each evening
by an old man to his young son as they sit on a veranda in rural
In this story, Dharma is a man searching for and finding insight and then trying, often without success to convey his experiences to others. He does it by using the ideas of his time, just as the Buddha does in his story, and which the modern storyteller explains sometimes in up-to-date terms. Thus Dharma speaks of gods but doesn’t advocate belief in them, let alone see himself as one. Jesus is named Dharma to convey his life and teachings as being a presentation of the truth.
Who would want to read a rendition of Jesus’ life in Buddhist terms? A wide and disparate audience I am told. Perhaps it is those who recall our underlying culture and seek clarity in place of belief. Or perhaps it is those who have not been offered any understanding of their own cultural origins, and who seek some spiritual dimension to life. While I cannot distil it down much further, I expect that readership will range from confident Christians to bemused Buddhists, which means both theists and atheists, and both those who like spiritual parables as well as those who just like a good story. Some have called it the greatest story ever told – it isn’t, but it is a version of a universal human story, and as such may well be widely read.
It is the same story told by different cultures. It doesn’t belong to Christians any more than to Buddhists or to any other ‘-isms’. In fact the gospel story so differs from Church doctrine that it could well be of a different religion – Jesus-ism. Such a thought may make some Christians wary of a rendition of ‘their’ familiar story into Buddhist language. Likewise, Buddhists attached to ‘what the Buddha said’ may shy away from sharing enlightenment with a ‘lesser’ religion. For while both groups revere ‘their’ respective didactic fables, such fixed views might see this book as only entertaining fiction. This would lay it open to judgement in terms of fashions in storytelling style. And I suppose in that way it would disappoint. Its didactic fable style, optional footnotes, glossary and references seem misplaced in a novel. So such a story might suit neither cross-carrying Christians nor belief-based Buddhists, neither secular sophists nor authoritarian atheists. So, such a story might be widely ignored.
Widely read or widely ignored, our highest human potential is described in its pages. The unthinking replacement of a belief-based ‘Buddhism’ for the West’s own cultural foundations is one of the motivations for the book. Exotic icons, colourful rituals, mind-diverting practices and ascetic ethics easily appeal to those without foundation in their lives. But I foresee such beautifully graven Buddha-images falling as their clay feet crumble under the heavy projections laid on their shoulders. Well has it been said that to reject one’s cultural foundations is often naïve and usually dangerous to one’s mental wellbeing.
Western cultures grow out of a Judeo-Christian tradition. Whether we like it or not, we derive much from the Bible, and even from the myth of Jesus in the gospels. Anyone who has studied the gospels with an open mind cannot help but be impressed by their multi-layered depths. Their allusion to, indeed appropriation of, Old Testament passages and quotidian terms to convey their spiritual message is a masterpiece in communicating the non-rational truths that so often escape formal religion. But learning from such genius requires us to have a level of biblical literacy and history that is as uncommon today as in illiterate times. No wonder its message is confused. The approach that I have taken here is to use Buddhist language and concepts to interpret the gospel story. From that perspective, it might be seen as an attempt to clarify the confusion that surrounds the gospels and Jesus.
This book is not a defence of one or other religion. Rather, it is an explanation of Christianity through Buddhism. Its message is rationally simple yet experientially demanding. And it is not amenable to institutional control. Perhaps that is why its various iterations across the millennia have been sidelined, suppressed or ignored as heretical or synchronistic. Why should it be any different today? My response is that I think it can be – because we have wide access to other knowledge, other traditions and other worldviews. Also, we now acknowledge that we enjoy unprecedented material wealth yet feel insecure. We suffer ever-increasing psychological or spiritual poverty, in my view because we ignore the way things really are. That is what this ancient story is about. It is the same story that is the life myth created for Buddha and for Jesus, and for other seers.
The spiritual context of the message is congruent with Buddhism. In terms of temporal context, it seems likely that the iconoclastic Jewish sects of Jesus’ time were pursuing separated and disciplined lifestyles. Far from being marginal groups, they were the culmination of centuries of Jewish insights independent of temples or priests. Jesus and John the Baptist may have belonged to such a group. This would explain their esoteric and scriptural knowledge, their lifestyles and their rejection of the socially respectable beliefs in resurrection. Furthermore, it would explain the hands-off approach ascribed to the ruling powers, for contrary to many fanciful beliefs, the area was under the beneficial peace of Roman rule. It was less oppressive than all contemporary alternatives.
‘Jesus-ism’ and ‘Paul-ism’ were two of many
sects when chaos accompanied the
decline of Roman protection after CE70. Like others, they saw
themselves as the
interpreters of the truth of ‘
from its beginning distant from the teachings of Jesus. Distant from
existential quest played out by that gifted Jew, which was so similar
which had occurred in Bihar in
These same values continue to pervade us when we adopt a foreign spiritual tradition. We seem prone to fall in love with the exotic while failing to see its underlying sameness of intent. Just as surely as our Western tradition is mired in the mud and blood of bitter struggles, so are all the others. In all cases the earnest seeker looks beneath such superficial abuses of traditions to see their real intent. And when we do this, we see the same motivation in all traditions – the ‘perennial philosophy’ of Aldous Huxley if you like. It is from that basis we can ‘translate’ others’ metaphors into our own language and vice versa, which is what this book does.
Jesus is renamed Dharma to convey his life and teachings as being an expression of the truth. In the same way so are other characters and places in the story named in Sanskrit, Pali or Thai to reflect similar meanings of their Hebrew, Greek or Latin origins. Or they may be the name of a character from the Buddha’s story for a similar role in the Jesus story. This can be simple parallels such as angel being rendered as ‘deva’ or disciples as ‘sangha’, but also includes John the Baptist being rendered as ‘Devapatha’ – divine path preparer, and more humorously Herod as ‘Suukaputra’, a Greek pun on his name.
Rendering a well-known story through another culture’s concepts, especially a story that is the psychological mortar of many people’s defences, is bound to attract criticism. The product may well deserve criticism, but the process should not. Consider this. It is often forgotten that the written words of both Jesus’ and the Buddha’s stories are not in the languages they spoke and were written well after they had died. Jesus may have spoken in Aramaic and the Buddha possibly in Kosala or Magadhi Prakrit, but their stories are recorded in Greek and Pali. Both may well have been illiterate in any case. So scriptures about their lives and teachings are always second-hand interpretations in second languages. To interpret them into another set of concepts or language as done here is little different; that is unless one has a superstitious belief in words.
The above paragraphs are taken from a section called ‘How to Read this Book’ at the end of the story of ‘Dharma as Man’, and that is followed by ‘A Note on Historicity’ that similarly aims to contribute to the constructive dialogue that highlights the sameness of spirit in these two of the world’s spiritual allegories. It is not an attempt to revise history for that has been better done elsewhere. Ever since the West has reconnected to the East, similarities between Hebrew, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and other traditions have been noted by the curious, from Schopenhauer to Schmidt. Across decades, many have argued that the New Testament displays Indian origins, and our secular age allows these to now be weighed. Incidents relating to walking on water provide one example. Word coincidences also present arresting similarities, as do other congruent teachings and parallel parables, life and miracle stories.,
German references are
offered – some of which may not usually be quoted in English
works, and all of
which seeks here to show similarities across a range of analytical
However, seeking historical parallels is beset with temptations to
as a counter to the belief-bases of entrenched religions. So, while
present a credible thesis in the main, Kersten’s earlier work
about Jesus living in
As the description of historicity concludes, ‘such curiosities are pointless. For what does it matter who said what first? What matters is the meaning of the message. And in “Dharma as Man”, the essential message that Dharma relates is the same as that in all enduring spiritual and psychological teachings. If there is an historical reason for this, it does not have to be that this is somehow ‘the Truth’ to believe in. It is more likely a common understanding of the functioning of our minds, and hence it appears through history wherever wise men met – and they probably did actively seek to meet each other. From that perspective, everything becomes clearer, including history, science and philosophy. I commend the thought-experience; it is the great path to the experience of oneness.’
This discussion has been cast in terms of dialogue between Buddhism and Christianity, and presentation of idealized life stories, fictional or otherwise forms part of the process of communication. Other forms include scholarship or theology (a term now curiously adopted in Buddhist scholarship) and spiritual practices. However, rather than see these as feeding into dialogue and then dialogue becoming an end in itself, I see these as contributing to an iterative process where dialogue, practice and means of engaging the intellect and the emotions such as idealized lives, interact to the benefit of the practitioner’s understanding,
‘Dharma as Man’ offers an
interpretation of Jesus’ life using Buddhist concepts. If
essential Buddhism is
a clear exposition of universal spiritual concepts, then Westerners
to Buddhism may beneficially acknowledge their cultural conditioning
this in their understanding of themselves. Just as Buddhism assimilated
essential teachings into various cultural forms as it progressed across
Whitehead (1996) Religion in the Making - the
Christianity and Buddhism: Sinclair
Thompson Memorial Lecture 5th Series.
 ‘do not suppose that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to complete’
 ‘the Tathagata, the perfected one, appears in the world for the gain of the many, the welfare of the many, out of compassion for the world’
 ‘Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them.’
 Santikaro Bhikkhu (2001) Jesus and Christianity in the Life and Works of Buddhadasa Bhikkhu. In Perry Schmidt-Leukel in cooperation with Thomas Josef Götz OSB and Gerhard Köberlin (2001) Buddhist Perceptions of Jesus: Papers of the Third Conference of the European Network of Buddhist-Christian Studies (St. Ottilien 1999). Published by Eos-Verlag in St. Ottilien, 2001. Pp. 179. Pages 80-103.
 L. Falvey
(2000) Thai Agriculture: Golden Cradle of
Millennia. Kasetsart University Press (international distributor,
 A Lecture by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu to Agricultural Teachers and Officials on 25 March 1991 at Suan Mokkhapharam, Chaiya, Surat Thani Province, Thailand, translated by L. Falvey from tape transcribed by Lerchat Boonek (2001). http://www.iid.org/publications/buddhadasa.pdf
 L. Falvey
(2005) Religion and Agriculture: Sustainability in
Christianity and Buddhism. c.350pp. Institute for International
 Conference organised by John Butt. Paper later published as Falvey, L. (2003) The Buddha’s Gospel: A Buddhist Interpretation of Jesus’ Words. Quest 2(2): 43-62.
 L. Falvey (2007) Reaching the Top: All Paths are True on the Right Mountain. Pp68. http://www.iid.org/publications/reachingthetop.pdf
 Pranja Anthology (The Book of Ecclesisates rendered into Buddhist concepts in rhyming couplets). Pp38 (2009) http://www.uni-verity.org/publications/pranja_anthology.pdf
 Devapatha here means ‘path of the gods’ or ‘divine path preparer’ and refers to John the Baptist in the Jesus story. In Dharma’s story as for Jesus, Devapatha is his slightly older cousin who has had similar spiritual practice and training and who initiates a method of spiritual development that Dharma continues, just as John does for Jesus in that story.
 Suukaputra means son (putra) of a pig (suuka) and is used in Dharma’s story mainly to represent the character of Herod (Suukaputra II) in the Jesus story. It follows the suggestion that Herod (Suukaputra II) could, in a Greek (the language of the Jesus story) pun be rendered to mean ‘son of a pig’. This ancient pun may arise from family factional problems surrounding Suukaputra II’s succession, which had led him to execute his two sons. This in turn is supposed to have inspired the Emperor Augustus’ pun that it was preferable to be Herod’s (Suukaputra II’s) pig (hus) than his son (huios), possibly intending an incidental insult to Jews in the service of Rome, such as Herod (Suukaputra II).
Zacharias P. Thundy (1993) Buddha and
Christ. Nativity Stories and Indian Tradition. Brill,
Klatt (1982) Literarkritische Beiträge zum Problem
Christlich-Buddhistischer Parallelen, Köln. Quoted in Gruber, E.R
Kersten, H. (1995) The Original Jesus:
The Buddhist Sources of Christianity. Element,
 Amore, R.C.
(1985) Two Masters, One Message.
 Gruber, E.R
and Kersten, H. (1995) The Original Jesus: The Buddhist Sources of
320th Meeting – Tuesday, February 9th 2010:
Stop Global Warming – New Strategies. A talk by Michael Tuckson
320th Meeting – Tuesday, February 9th 2010
Stop Global Warming – New Strategies
A talk by Michael Tuckson
Post-Copenhagen, the climate
on. We can expect reporting from each country to the UN on promised
emissions reductions by February 1st. The challenges
then are to try to increase the promises, to raise the
of temperature and concentration aims, to raise the understanding of
contributions of various GHGs, the risk of unstoppable change, and
matters. The focus should be on the influential and powerful