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An essay donated by Tom Drake-Brockman

Happy Krishmas: Jesus, Buddha, and reincarnation

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Happy Krishmas

Should the alcoholic spirit of Christmas cause us to blurt out ‘happy krishmas’, it may be a rather ironic case of "in vino veritas."

Jesus was not the only religious icon born by Immaculate Conception and placed in a manger, then heralded by a star and wise men who came bearing gifts. Exactly the same birth scenario was ascribed to Khrisna 1000 years earlier- and much the same to Buddha 500 years earlier. These are just a few of the myriad and extraordinary parallels between the life episodes and teachings of Jesus and his more eastern precursors. In their book The Original Jesus, 1 German scholars E Gruber and H Kersten elaborate these in detail. Just as Jesus initially followed the ascetic John the Baptist, Buddha adopted as his teacher Rudraka the Brahmin, an ascetic penitent who he subsequently rejected. Both Jesus and Buddha then meditated in the wilderness, rejecting temptations of the devil before starting their missions. Both multiplied the loaves and fed the multitudes, walked on water and had to rescue disciples who tried to emulate them. These and countless other concurrences go well beyond coincidence or Jungian archetypes. These are really only explicable either as gospel plagiarism or indeed, as Jesus and Buddha being incarnations of the same deity. The latter assumption is tantalizing and would be entirely consistent with the close alignment of their teachings -- in particular, their shared perception of reincarnation.

Buddhist missionaries from India had established a strong influence in the Eastern Mediterranean from around 250 BCE and their core doctrine of reincarnation had been absorbed into orthodox Jewish faith before the advent of Jesus. Jewish historian Josephus reveals that by the first century reincarnation was largely embraced by the Pharisees. Josephus also tells us that the Essenes -- from whom Jesus drew so many of his followers -- were devotees of Pythagoras who fully embraced reincarnation. As with many of their own Judaic doctrines, the Jewish religious elites had distorted and exploited reincarnation to underpin their guilt-laden purity laws which maliciously ascribed birth defectsto punishment for sins in a previous life. That was certainly the presumption of Christ’s disciples when they suggested that a man who was born blind was being punished for his sins. It was also evident in the Pharisee’s rebuke to the same man that his blindness was the result of him being “born in sin. Jesus of course promptly dismissed that vindictive notion and proceeded to cure the man. But he did not challenge the blatant underlying presumption of reincarnation. Having already tacitly accounted for the unavoidable presence of suffering and evil in the world, he simply advised them to adopt a positive attitude, regarding such adversity as a challenge, an opportunity to respond with compassion and thereby reveal the ‘glory’ of God’s intrinsic nature"his ‘holy spirit’ of compassion.

Another German scholar Günther Schwarz has extracted much of Christ’s native Aramaic dialect from the original Greek language of the gospels. He has established that the actual words of Jesus in John 3:3 were:

“unless a man is born again and again, he cannot be readmitted into the Kingdom of God.

Born again is usually understood in biblical idiom as a metaphor for spiritual awakening. But an epiphany is expected to occur just once. The repetition of ‘again’ suggests a rather more literal meaning. Similarly in the gospels as well as numerous apocryphal and Gnostic texts, Jesus uses the metaphor of the human body as a ‘prison’. In warning that we will remain in “prison … until the last penny is paid (Matt. 5:26) Jesus seems to have co-opted this phrase from Plato who described reincarnation in terms of the body being “a prison in which the psyche is incarcerated, kept safe until the price is paid.(Plato, Cratylus). The Gnostic gospels of course are replete with Jesus references to reincarnation such as this one from the Gospel of Thomas:

“But when you see your images that came into being before you and that neither die nor become visible, how much you will have to bear!(Gospel of Thomas: 84)

That Jesus was not more explicit about reincarnation might be attributed to the prevailing mania of his Jewish compatriots about the immanent end days. But reincarnation was a widely embraced tenet of early Christianity and remained so for hundreds of years. In the 6th century CE, the church elders branded reincarnation as heretical, no doubt because they decided it impinged on their exclusive claim to broker the eternal fate of their followers.

If the message of Jesus was predicated on reincarnation, his ultimate goal was also similar to that of Krishna and Buddha. Everyone would eventually have to target much higher levels of spiritual attainment. That involves becoming intensely mindful of and compassionate towards human suffering. Thus Jesus called on us to bear our own ‘crosses’ and ingest the ‘flesh and blood’ of his compassionate essence in order to steadily progress to a higher form of consciousness and civilisation. According to John’s Gospel, the ultimate goal for humanity is to grow to spiritual maturity in a virtually organic relationship with God -- “the glorious unity of being one -- like the branches of a productive vine that bear the abundant fruits of God’s compassionate love. If and when that point is reached, presumably the ‘final harvest’ would be at hand.

If that is our life purpose, we could have all breathed easily about the Mayan prophecy that the world would end just before Christmas, 2012. After all. we clearly have a long way yet to go.

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Tom Drake-Brockman Author of Christian Humanism:the compassionate theology of a Jew called Jesus. It was our web site's recommended book for the month October, 2012.


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  1. book cover image Elmar Gruber & Holger Kersten, "The Original Jesus," Element Books (1996). Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store

  2. book cover image Tom Drake-Brockman, "Christian Humanism," Self published, (2012) Read reviews or order this book safely from online book store This was ourrecommended book of the month in 2012-OCT

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Originally posted: 2012-DEC-19
Latest update: 2012-DEC-12
Author: Tom Drake-Brockman

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