Was Jesus in India?

By: hawkgrrrl
July 10, 2012

Previously I noted similarities between Jesus’s teachings and Buddhism.  I recently travelled in India and toured the Vishnawara temple in Varanasi.  On the upper floor, there are Hindu sayings and scriptures carved with illustrations that give worshippers thoughts to ponder as they meditate and pray at the shrines of the gods.  Many of these sayings sounded like some of the Psalms and Proverbs from the Old Testament, and many others sounded like a twist on the sayings of Jesus in the New Testament.

Some theories claim that Jesus lived in India either before or after his crucifixion (or both).  The Hindu book the Bhagavad Gita is a collection of sayings that predate Christianity by 200-500 years, and there are many similarities between these sayings and familiar verses from the New Testament that are ascribed to Jesus.  Some have even remarked on the similarities between Jesus and Krishna (one of Lord Vishnu’s incarnations).  You be the judge:

  • Jesus:  If anyone wants to come after me, he must deny himself (Mark 8:34)
  • Krishna:  Selfless action is the path to perfection (III: 19)
  • Jesus:  I am … the beginning and the end (Revelation 22:13). I, the Lord, do not change (Malachi 3:6)
  • Krishna:  I am birthless and changeless. I am the lord. (IV: 6)
  • Jesus:  The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45)
  • Krishna:  Be humble, serve others (IV: 34)
  • Jesus:  All this has taken place to fulfill the scriptures (Matthew 26:56)
  • Krishna:  Your actions should conform to the truths of the scriptures (XVI: 24)
  • Jesus:  The one who comes to me I will certainly not cast out (John 6:37)
  • Krishna:  No worshipper of mine is ever rejected (IX: 31)
  • Jesus:  Lend, expecting nothing in return (Luke 6:35)
  • Krishna:  Giving that expects no return (XVII: 20)
  • Jesus:  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls (Matthew 11:29)
  • Krishna:  Throw away your dharmas (duties & rules) – have faith in me, take refuge in me (XVIII:66)

Some of the fundamental philosophical differences between Hinduism and Christianity that I noted change the flavor of what is meant in similar-sounding verses:

  • Reincarnation.  Because Hinduism is based on the belief that our nature is a lengthy series of births and rebirths, many of the sayings have a very different meaning if you consider them to be about reincarnation rather than spiritual renewal and repentance in this lifetime.
  • Detachment from outcomes.  While Jesus’s sayings do often refer to the need to detach from wealth and control, most Christians do not see detachment as central to our faith.  In fact, many (for example those who follow the ideas of the Prosperity Gospel or the Book of Mormon pride cycle) would say that riches will follow righteousness, that temporal blessings can and should be sought through righteous actions.

So, why do you think these are so similar?  Was Jesus exposed to Eastern thought (Wise Men from the East) that he infused with Judaism to create Christianity?  Was Jesus in the East?  There are graves of Jesus in both Kashmir (the story says that he went there after the crucifixion – he avoided death using Eastern meditative techniques – and lived out the remainder of his days) and in Japan (the story says that a double, his brother, was killed in his place while he continued to live and teach among the Buddhists in Japan, eventually dying there).  Of course, since the very existence of Jesus can’t be proven through archaeological means, these are merely claims made in remote regions of the far East, unproven and unprovable.

What do you think?

Discuss.

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22 Responses to Was Jesus in India?

  1. CS Eric on July 10, 2012 at 7:00 AM

    I don’t understand how people can read the Book of Mormon as a “Prosperity Gospel” book. It starts with an apparently well-to-do family leaving everything behind and traveling into an unknown wilderness. It was Laman and Lemuel, not Lehi or Nephi, who worried about all their worldly goods.

    Finally, the book ends with two men, Mormon and Moroni, seeing their entire civilization collapse. I read the Book of Mormon as (among other things) a series of sermons showing we should be detached from the things of the world.

    Did Jesus go to India? I don’t know. Personally, I like the idea of his being an intellectually curious carpenter who may have learned from local merchants and travelers, rather than his being a spiritual wanderer through the known world before returning to his home to start his ministry.

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  2. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 10, 2012 at 7:58 AM

    Ah, but one of Alexander’s generals became a buddhist saint and eastern philosophers were imported as curiosities for hundreds of years.

    Seriously, though, there is something to the idea of universal truth.

    Otherwise, exactly what CS Eric says.

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  3. Hedgehog on July 10, 2012 at 8:12 AM

    We certainly know very little about his life before 30. But I don’t think the idea that he went anywhere before his mission to Jews fits with his mission being to the Jews in the first instant.

    On the other hand, why would other nations not have had prophets, prophecies and the resulting scripture, just as the Bible and Book of Mormon? Why also, would he not have visited following the resurrection? The Book of Mormon tells he had other sheep/folds to visit. My daughter tells me, following her RS lessons at school, that actually Hinduism follows one God, and that the many gods are but different attributes of the one. I found that interesting.

    DH has sometimes commented on the similarity between the rituals and structure at/of a Shinto shrine, and the OT temple.

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  4. Bonnie on July 10, 2012 at 8:54 AM

    I don’t think Jesus moved much out of the Egypt-Israel area, but that’s not positioned on much in-depth study. I agree with Hedgehog that it wasn’t pertinent to his mission.

    Of course, this is after Jesus resurrection, but Eusebius has Bartholomew going on a missionary tour of India. “Kings” traveled from the east, possibly India, and the new magi text discovered a few years ago (while not likely written as it purports by the magi themselves) does posit an assumption that there was intercourse between the cultures for some time.

    The elements of the gospel from different dispensations have been hidden throughout the earth since time began, with truth surfacing throughout all religions. Egyptian funerary texts suffused with Abrahamic teachings. Who knows what we inherited from Enoch? Fascinating how truth survives.

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  5. Howard on July 10, 2012 at 9:38 AM

    Mormons take religion far too literally, religion is mythology.  I agree with Stephen there is something to the idea of universal truth.  Mythology is a medium used to convey some of that truth and an attempt to explain our mortal and spiritual experience.  The message of the myth is far more important than it’s historicity.  Christ was not Christ because that is who he happened to be or because all sons of God would have turned out exactly like him.  Christ was Christ because that is the role we need him to play in order for us to advance and it doesn’t matter if he actually lived or not to fulfill that role.  If we open our minds it’s easy to see the similarities in religion and when we do we begin to see that they are all God’s marketing channels and we embrace our brothers and sisters of all cultures.  When we embrace the concept of the LDS church being the only true church our closed minds can only see the differences and the wrongness of other’s beliefs and we circle the wagons defensively in an us vs. them paradigm so we aren’t threatened or contaminated by their supposedly wrong concepts.  Western religion glorifies the institution of the church, eastern religion glorifies the enlightenment of the individual.  Western churches oppose individual enlightenment because it removes the church from the business of brokering one’s relationship with God.  Moses, Christ and Joseph were enlightened.  Christ is our exemplar.  Individual enlightenment is the path of advancement beyond the one size fits all levels rules of the church and as the OP suggests the method to escape the sting of death and it may well be what is meant to be changed in the twinkling of a eye (less the new body).  This is because the sting of death is isolation and enlightenment is oneness in the form of interconnectedness.

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  6. hawkgrrrl on July 10, 2012 at 9:46 AM

    Howard, you make one point that I think supports the idea of Jesus being an enlightenment teacher with exposure to eastern ideas: that he didn’t set up a church (except in the Book of Mormon). The Apostle Paul set up a church. Jesus just preached about personal wisdom and right action – very Hindu, very Buddhist. Then they killed him. Would he have set up a church? The Book of Mormon would have us believe he would have, but if we read the NT only, it’s kind of hard to imagine he would.

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  7. Howard on July 10, 2012 at 10:23 AM

    By 30 Jesus lacked most of what we think of as the natural man, he enjoyed almost unlimited communication with the father and early Christian art portrays him with a halo.  These are further indications of enlightenment.  What does the halo represent if not the aura of the crown chakra?

    Churches like entrepreneurs can be useful even necessary for getting things started but also like entrepreneurs can easily become the limiters to growth. They could extend their life and relevance by teaching and adding support structure to the process of enlightenment but it is such a mortal conflict of interest for them that they see enlightenment as competition and in time they and their members will likely be left behind by individual enlightenment.

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  8. Paul on July 10, 2012 at 3:29 PM

    Howard, your view is interesting, though I don’t agree with it.

    If Jehovah (Jesus’ premortal self) was the God of the Old Testament, then He certainly could have revealed himself all around the world, not just to his Hebrew believers in and around the Mediterrean world. Certainly Book of Mormon prophets knew of Him and His teaching long before he appeared in the flesh.

    HG, and interesting thought about his being interred in Japan — I’d never heard that before.

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  9. Mike S on July 10, 2012 at 10:50 PM

    Hawk:

    Thank you for this post. The Bhagavad Gita is one of my favorite books. I have been enlightened by it and made a better person. I have felt the spirit while reading it.

    Regarding whether Jesus traveled to India, I don’t have an answer. Given the culture of the time, I think it is unlikely, but is it always possible.

    I do think there are great similarities between the Bhagavad Gita and what Christ taught. I find the same truths in the Dhammapada and other Eastern writings. Having been raised in Mormonism with familiarity with the Bible and other Christian teachings, I am continually amazed at the similarities I see in some of these other books – whether teachings, life histories, stories, miraculous accounts, etc.

    I see several possible solutions to this:

    1) God is the author of all truth: God has spoken to man throughout time. He spoke to Adam. He spoke to Abraham. He spoke to Buddha. He spoke to Hindu writers. He spoke to Christ. He spoke to Nephite writers. He spoke to Mohammed . He spoke to Joseph Smith.

    In this theory, the similarities between all of these faiths is that they were all ultimately based on truth directly from God. There is some support for this, when Christ taught that “other sheep I have which are not of this fold”, who would also hear His voice. Perhaps ALL faiths are good and are based on truth, and are “customized” for the societies in which they arose. Perhaps all of these faiths are the best for that particular people.

    This does somewhat fly against the purpose of missionary work. I also think that a lot of LDS members would take issue with putting the Bhagavad Gita on the same footing as the Book of Mormon.

    2) Many faiths are derivative: This is more akin to “Christ traveling to India”. Buddhism makes the most sense when seen as a reaction to Hinduism. As you nicely pointed out, Christ’s teachings incorporate Eastern thoughts from centuries before into Jewish teachings. Christianity incorporated Jewish teachings, Christ’s words and Greek influences. Protestantism and Luthernism exist in contrast to the Catholic Church. And even our own faith makes the most sense when seen as incorporating aspects of 19th century thoughts and language regarding Christianity and melding them with Old Testament themes.

    In this case, the common themes between the different faiths are because there is a common thread connecting everything. Because of this, Christ incorporating Eastern teachings into his words is no more strange than Joseph Smith incorporating King James English into the Nephites’ words.

    Personally, I believe there is a combination of the two. I believe that there are many more “prophets” than we commonly accept, in the sense of a “prophet” being someone who brings back a message from the Divine. I consider Buddha and Mohammed and other prophets. I also think that no religion exists in a vacuum.

    And so Jesus using the words of Buddha or words from the Bhagavad Gita makes perfect sense to me.

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  10. Nate on July 10, 2012 at 11:41 PM

    I’m glad to hear Mormons discussing these things, and I think Joseph Smith would have been very interested in hearing about Krishna, if he had been exposed to it.

    Joseph Smith’s interest in Egyptology and the Book of Abraham came after the mummies came to his town. His revelations on the Endowment came after being inducted into Masonry.

    Joseph was a truth collector, and wherever he found it, he incorporated it into LDS theology. The structure of the LDS faith directly corresponds to the personal experience of Joseph Smith. If he had grown up in India, and were exposed to Eastern cultures, those likely would have also found expression in his faith.

    I don’t think Mormonism should only slavishly adhere to the arbitrary theological experience of Joseph Smith, but also follow the principle behind it’s genesis: embrace all truth wherever it is found, with the tools Joseph gave us: belief, imagination, revelation, and a gift for seeing the universal principles behind these many manifestations of God’s work among men.

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  11. larryco_ on July 11, 2012 at 2:21 AM

    With the establishment of the Silk Road routes from China to the Mediterranean, ideas from various cultures flowed across Asia as easily as textiles and spices. That’s one of the reasons you find mystery cults connected with Isis and Mithras in Rome and other places. It is very conceivable that Jesus could have been exposed to Buddhism, Zoroastrianism, and Hinduism without going any further than Sepphoris, which was 4 miles away from Nazareth.

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  12. Hedgehog on July 11, 2012 at 6:15 AM

    Agreed Nate.

    My all time favourite lesson is the one I had to teach from Teachings of the Presidents – John Taylor (chapter 23), on the topic of truth. Best quote (p.217):
    ‘If there is any truth in heaven, earth, or hell, I want to embrace it; I care not what shape it comes to me, who brings it, or who believes in it; whether it is popular or unpopular, truth, eternal truth, I wish to float in and enjoy.’

    Your comments cause me to wonder Mike, how wide or narrow our definition of scripture should be. We’re told that we won’t get more scripture until really reading/studying what we have already. But perhaps we have far more than we think?

    I hadn’t realised how much I’d missed this kind of discussion, the sort we’d have with my grandfather whenever we visited when I was growing up. He didn’t like organised religion, but he always enjoyed a vigorous exchange about religious ideas, and he read a lot. He leaned towards the teachings of Krishnamurti. My other grandparents were Rosicrucians, so I think inspite of my active BIC upbringing (my parents joined the church in their teens), I was exposed to an eclectic collection of religious ideas growing up.

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  13. Mark A. Clifford on July 11, 2012 at 10:01 AM

    This is a great discussion.

    The Book of Mormon infoms us, on the title page, that one of its purposes is “to the convincing of Jew and Gentile that JESUS IS THE CHRIST, THE ETERNAL GOD, manifesting himself to all nations” (caps in the text, by the way, perhaps because the Mormons do not believe it yet). Mormons are theologically committed by the first page of thier founding text to the idea that God manifests himself to all nations.

    Later, Nephi has God saying this (2 Nephi chapter 29:

    [8] Wherefore murmur ye, because that ye shall receive more of my word? Know ye not that the testimony of two nations is a witness unto you that I am God, that I remember one nation like unto another? Wherefore, I speak the same words unto one nation like unto another. And when the two nations shall run together the testimony of the two nations shall run together also.

    [9] And I do this that I may prove unto many that I am the same yesterday, today, and forever; and that I speak forth my words according to mine own pleasure. And because that I have spoken one word ye need not suppose that I cannot speak another; for my work is not yet finished; neither shall it be until the end of man, neither from that time henceforth and forever.

    [10] Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written.

    [11] For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written.

    [12] For behold, I shall speak unto the Jews and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the Nephites and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto the other tribes of the house of Israel, which I have led away, and they shall write it; and I shall also speak unto all nations of the earth and they shall write it.

    Sorry for the long nerdy scriptural quote.

    I think our expectation that world scripture must sound exactly like our scripture is a mistake. The Old Testament does not always sound like “our scripture”. However, the Christian tradition has been doing the theological work to re-imagine the Old Testament as a Christian literature to such a great extent that we have accomodated it into our “Christian” religious language. To some extent, Paul is re-imagining Old Testament documents in the light of the revelation that Jesus is God from the earliest moments of the Christian era. I view that work as God’s work. In all generations we have to take the tradition and re-imagine it in the light of the shattering revelation that Jesus is God.

    Grant Hardy observed in “Understanding the Book of Mormon” in a breathtaking reading of Ether that Moroni was confronted by an essentially non-christian source text in the Jaredite plates. Hardy carefully martials textual evidence (very convincingly) that shows that Moroni essentially “christianized” the source text from Ether and grafted it into the Book of Mormon. That gives us (the modern inheritors of his book) a ready-made example of the way in which God’s manifestation to other nations can be “re-interpreted”, if you will, as a witness of Christ.

    God speaks to people in all nations, both in the East and in the West, and they write it. I understand that they write according to thier understanding and in their language. This includes the tradition which they inherit, the thought forms common to them, and the surrounding religious structures. This God has explained to the Mormons already, telling us in the D&C that “I speak unto men in their language, according to their understanding.” Our task is to understand the scripture (whether that is the Zend Avesta, or the Adi Granth, or the Upanishads, or the Lotus Sutra, or the Book of Abraham) and let it edify us according to our experience that Jesus is the God that they reveal: that Jesus is the God of all nations, and that it is he that spoke to them. I like that a lot.

    But then, I really like being a Mormon. Because Mormons know that World Scripture is the word of God.

    Bam.

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  14. Frank Pellett on July 11, 2012 at 10:47 AM

    I know its not what you asked, but I do think there is a commonality in “reincarnation”. After all, we believe that we are here because of our actions in the previous life, and that our status in the next life will be predicated on our actions in this life. Our reincarnation may be in a limited scope (since we don’t believe in coming back as animals stuck in a loop of this life), but it is reincarnation none the less.

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  15. Mike S on July 11, 2012 at 10:51 AM

    #12 Hedgehog: Your comments cause me to wonder Mike, how wide or narrow our definition of scripture should be. We’re told that we won’t get more scripture until really reading/studying what we have already. But perhaps we have far more than we think?

    My definition is likely a lot broader than most. There are probably people in the Church who would consider studying the Qu’ran or the Bhagavad Gita as close to heresy, or at least a lack of faith. There are probably people who stick to more “approved” sources.

    Personally, I have had the same good feelings reading many of these things as I have reading the Book of Mormon or the Bible. I have had profound insights reading all of these different sources. I see truth in many places.

    We often hear taught that we don’t expect people to give up the good that they have learned in their own faith, but that we just want to add to it. But we seldom accept the converse – keeping the good that we have learned in the LDS faith and adding truths from other places to it.

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  16. Hawkgrrrl on July 11, 2012 at 2:11 PM

    CS Eric, I didn’t say the BoM teaches the prosperity gospel, just that it includes a pride cycle. I was contrasting both these ideas to eastern detachment. Personally I think Jesus teaches detachment pretty directly. The BoM cautions that riches lead to pride and social collapse which leads to humility, then righteousness, then prosperity, etc. The prosperity gospel, by contrast, is a protestant teaching popularized in megachurches, that encourages people to obtain riches as a reward for personal righteousness. I also know plenty of Mormons who subscribe to a form of the prosperity gospel. For example, observing that someone who is perceived to be less righteous doesn’t deserve those temporal blessings as much as a more righteous person does. Or assuming that someone wealthy is wealthy through blessings due to prsonal righteousness. So far my tithing cashback rebate check hasn’t come. I think an extension of this thinking is that we don’t call people to high church callings if they don’t have their finances in order. I think that’s just common sense, but people interpret it the way they do.

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  17. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 11, 2012 at 2:32 PM

    God, who has spoken to all nations….

    You can read the rest in Hebrews.

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  18. Kadmon on July 11, 2012 at 3:19 PM

    Buddhist monks and philosophers sent by King Asoka made it to Alexandria, Egypt in 250 BC. Many people think that similarities between Christianity and Buddhism or Hinduism are attributable to travel and communication from India to the near east. There are even more striking similarities between many Gnostic writings and Buddhism than the similarities between the Bhagavad Gita and the Bible cited above. There are also some peculiar biographical similarities between Jesus and Siddhartha. As for reincarnation, Origen believed in it. Apparently one of Joseph Smith’s plural wives said that Joseph Smith believed in it as well.

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  19. FireTag on July 11, 2012 at 9:11 PM

    I have toyed with the notion of “collective revelation” in which the Spirit works through the common experiences of a culture along a lot of different threads until they come together in the experience of an individual who makes the conceptual breakthrough to be prophetic. This can happen many times, of course, with many aspects of truth, which emphasizes the importance of not isolating a culture from new influences if further revelation is to be gained.

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  20. Aaron on July 12, 2012 at 4:27 AM

    Holger Kersten has an interesting book on this topic. We don’t know, of course, where Jesus was or what he was doing for many years prior to his ministry. I personally doubt Jesus actually traveled to India, but who knows? It is also believed that the Apostle Thomas traveled to India and there are in fact Christians in India today who are called Thomas Christians. Our knowledge of that time in world history seems to be both more and less than what we think it is.

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  21. Glenn Thigpen on July 12, 2012 at 8:13 PM

    I think that rather than Christ being in India, Buddha was rather filled with some of the Light of Christ. Read Doctrine and Covenants, Section 88.

    Glenn

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  22. Douglas on July 16, 2012 at 10:42 AM

    Other than the apocryphal story about Jesus venturing to India after His resurrection, I don’t know of any evidence of his having ministered in the flesh to other than Judea and the BoM (Nephi) setting. But absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. As for the similarities between Buddhist and/or Hindu teachings and early Christianity, many of these truths on personal integrity and human relations were not newly introduced by the Savior in the meridian of time. Who is to say that (1) Gautuma Buddha didn’t receive some personal revelation, albeit limited, to do good in his time, and (2) that some form of Gospel teachings, perhaps as far as the early Indus Valley civilisation, still had some of its teaching survive into the fifth century BC culture of India.
    Or it’s possible that somewhere in India were some of the Savior’s “Sheep” that He wanted to see. Whatever the story, it hasn’t yet been revealed.

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