Continuing the weekly serialization of
Damian Beeson Bullen’s
THE CHISPER EFFECT
In which a number of the world’s greatest mysteries are finally solved
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The teachings of Jesus Christ are the foundation stones upon which stands one of the most important religions of mankind: Christianity. We encounter its founder in the canonical Gospels of the New Testament, four moving reports of the ‘messiah’s’ ministry in and around the city of Jerusalem. Before this, and indeed after, as some scholars would have it, a great deal of evidence, both new and old, suggests he had at one point taken residence in India. Following the Indian sub-continent’s introduction to the tenets of European Christianity; by the nineteenth century many native intellectuals began to notice the numerous similarities between the religion preached by the ‘Carpenter’s Son’ from Judea, & the antique faiths of India. One of these scholars, an early 20th century ascetic called Swami Sivananda Saraswati, suggested that Jesus, ‘lived like a Hindu or a Buddhist monk, a life of burning renunciation and dispassion. He assimilated the ideals, precepts and principles of Hinduism. Christianity is modified Hinduism only, which was suitable for those people who lived in the period of Christ. Really speaking, Jesus was a child of the soil of India only. That is the reason why there is so much of similarity between his teachings and the teachings of Hinduism and Buddhism.’
My own interest in an Indian Jesus was piqued in February 2011, while rummaging through the worm-riddled books of the Ragunhandan library in Puri, a wonderful sea-girt city of the eastern state of Orissa. As I sat beneath the creaking fans, the noisy rush of temple-traffic honking and swirling outside, I felt a memory of the great Imperial adventure surge through my spirit. The colonial era of the British had overseen the translation and study of many ancient texts, a whirl of orientalia which has provided a rich literary canvas for historians to explore. It was in Puri, for instance, that I first ruffled through an English-language version of the Bhagavad Gita, and it was in that same city that I heard, for the first time, of how Jesus Christ had spent time in India.
My adventure began with strange wild music – the long quavering notes of huge horns, like those which awake the echoes of the Alps in the harpy-haunted route to Chamounix. These surreal notes of some ethereal song drew me onto the library roof, where I could observe below me in the street a colorful religious procession of the Hindu sort. I also found myself the closest any Westerner ever gets to the guts of the epic Jaggernatha Temple, forbidden as we are to enter its sacred confines. The library roof, however, offers a pleasant, though restricted view of at least a portion of the inner Temple into which the procession was gradually filtering. Also watching the events unravel below was a scruffy-looking, fifty-year-old, American gentleman. As we stood together in the blaze of day high on the library’s rooftop he transfixed me with a rather curious tale as if he was an Ancient Mariner & I some futuristic Wedding Guest.
“Jesus is said to have been there, y’know,” said the American.
“He did…” I replied with nonchalant indifference. It seemed a rather far-fetched notion. Orissa is a long, long way from Jerusalem.
“Yeah man, there’s this book I read a few years back by this Russian guy called… ehm… Notovich – that’s right… it’s called the lost Gospel according to Jesus Christ or something…”
The American went on, explaining that it made a great deal of sense for Jesus to have spent time in India. When he walked on water, for instance, he was merely using the mystical powers of a yogic master. He then described other elements of Indian asceticism that appear in the Gospels, such as reincarnation, as when Jesus declares John the Baptist to have once been the prophet Elijah. Becoming slowly intrigued by the idea, a few days later I found the American’s words whistling around my mind while wandering a provincial library in Bubanaswar, the capital of Orissa. I soon unearthed a copy of Notovich’s book, sitting quietly on a shelf next to another book titled ‘Jesus in India,’ by a Muslim writer called Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad. Taking my seat amidst a silent sea of white shirts, I plunged into both texts, emerging sometime later with the quite solid conviction that Jesus must have spent time in India. The two books in conjunction provided too many coincidences to think otherwise, and being a student of historical mysteries, I decided to take up the challenge of solving that rather peculiar question – did Jesus live in India?
There is perhaps no more difficult a puzzle to solve as the Jesus Jigsaw. Nevertheless I began to research the matter within the salubrious cloisters of Scotland’s National Library in Edinburgh. This vast repository of books, from all eras and upon all subjects, has been of vital assistance throughout my studies, and after a couple of years I had collated enough material and eked out enough fresh insights to write a book – this book – which touched on the the subject. It is one thing to study a mystery using libraries and the google mega-brain, but a far different thing altogether to venture into the exotic regions where that mystery initially occurred. With this in mind I took it upon myself to travel to India once more, to immerse myself in all the chaos, wonderment and ever-living vitality of that happening, maddening land. Finding the truth about Jesus seemed like looking for a fleck of gold dust in a haystack, but I was well up for the challenge.
As I left Edinburgh one late September evening in 2013, a thick fog had enveloped the city. At every turn the brightness of summer was fading into mellow fruitfulness, the mad rush of the city’s festival season echoing gently on the breeze, its show-posters crumbling to nothingness in the Autumnal rains. To Edinburgh’s residents, a dour seven months or so of early darkness, biting cold and grey skies lay ahead. The seemingly endless Scottish winter is not one for the faint-hearted, and the notion of spending an alternative season in the sun, hard on the trail of the historical Jesus, had becoming a rather inviting alternative. A few hours into my flight to Delhi, I found myself soaring over the dusty, rocky, mountainous landscape of Turkey. Two thousand years ago, in that desolate world far below my window, travelers would have been slowly plodding eastwards along the ancient highway known as the Silk Road, that grand and ancient facilitator of trade between China and Europe. If Jesus did travel between the Holy Land & India, following the Silk Road would have been a likely course. Evidence for his presence along the route was discovered in Afghanistan by the twentieth century orientalist O. M. Burke, who came across a sect of a thousand souls devoted to the worship of a certain Yuz Asaf, whom they also knew as Issa, son of Maryam. Their traditions speak of how Yuz Asaf escaped the cross, settled in Kashmir, and was the performer of great miracles.
Native topography places Jesus in Afghanistan, where two plains near Ghazni and Jalalabad bear the name of Yuz Asaf. According to an early 20th century Persian scholar, Syed Ahmad Delhvli, Jesus received the name ‘Yuzu Asaf’ in the following fashion; ‘Hazrat Issa, who cured lepers, came to be known as Asaph. He was known as Yuzu, and as he had cured lepers, he came to be known as Yuzu Asaph, for he not only cured them but gathered them under his merciful protection.’ We can see here that Jesus was given an alternative name, Hazrat Issa. This is a slight deviation on Isa Ibn Maryam, given to Jesus by the Islamic tradition, while the earliest fragments of the Gospel of Matthew call Jesus the similar ‘Is.’ The principle key to unlocking this puzzle is recognizing and accepting that in true chispological fashion, Jesus was known by different names in different lands and by different tongues. ‘In general,’ declared the 4th century Church Father Epiphanius of Salamis, ‘all the other peoples have it according to the language of each of them.’ Each of these versions represents an individual Jesusian avatar, an interconnected nexus of names which create the following Babel-Chain. The first name in the chain is Iesus, which was the earliest Roman and Greek spelling of Jesus. It was only about a thousand years ago, at the turn of the first millennium, that the ‘J’ sound began to take precedent.
Not all of these names are attached to the story of Jesus, but by analyzing them in more detail we shall see how they possess curious and numerous connections to both Jesus and each other. Each name contributes biographical details to the vita of a single individual upon whose existence several creochains have grown, like the petals of a holy lotus. Of such chispological wonders of theology, a modern Tamil scholar, K.D. Thirunavukkarasu declares, ‘the fragrance of a lotus is the sum total of the fragrance of the individual petals that compose the lotus… If the petals are plucked away, the lotus ceases to exist. If what has happened or has been achieved in the regional spheres is bypassed, the composite image… gets distorted and disturbed.’ In the same fashion, much of the botany of the true Jesus has been stripped away, leaving us only the ‘distorted and disturbed’ image contained within the Gospels.
On arrival in India, & after a swift tour of Delhi’s many splendors, I flew north, rushing over the snowy crowns of the mighty Himalayan massif to the veritable rooftop of the world – Ladakh. On reaching lovely Leh, Ladakh’s little capital, I took a pleasant room with spectacular views of the mountain-gods. The situation is one of immense charm, surrounded on all sides by a grey, arid desert which bleeds into a jagged chain of mountains encircling the wide basin in which Leh sleepily sits. The town (one could hardly call it a city) has the feel of an oasis, swimming with zen-like calm, far from the chaos of lowland India. This extreme serenity was mellowed even further by a decidedly end-of-season atmosphere – many hotels and restaurants had been closed since mid-September – and only the hardiest of trekkers were in town in order to tour the region. Semi-autonomous Ladakh is more affectionately known as ‘Little Tibet,’ a moniker reflected in the faces and food which permeate the region. A remote and scarcely populated land, there is a wonderful austerity to the place, although modernity is slowly seeping into its ancient fibers. Its capital seemed a suitable place to start my hunt for Jesus, for during my studies I had come across several fellow travelers who had placed the prophet among these obscure & far-flung reaches of the Himalayas. In the twentieth century, where Lady Henrietta Merrick says, ‘in Leh is the legend of Christ who is called Issa… where he was joyously received and where he preached,’ Nicholas Roerich (paraphrasing a Tibetan legend), says Jesus, ‘was joyously accepted by monks and people of the lower class. And Jesus taught in the monasteries and in the bazaars; wherever the simple people gathered—there he taught… Among the Ladakis, Jesus passed many days, teaching them. And they loved him and when the time of his departure came they sorrowed as children.’ F.A. Plattner states the same legend had ‘spread widely through Ladakh, Sinkian and Mongolia,’ adding, ‘the Hindu postmaster of Leh, and several Ladaki Buddhists told us that in Leh not far from the Bazar, there still exists a pond near which stood an old tree. Under this tree, Christ preached to the people, before his departure to Palestine.‘ One would imagine that this tiny slice of Jesus’ life has never been preached in a Christian church – but does that really make it any less valid a biographical anecdote?
After the Chinese invasion of Tibet in the 1950s, thousands of refugees began to stream over the border into India, including the Dalai Lama himself, who currently resides in exile at Dharam Sala, a few hundred kilometers to the south of Ladakh. The Indian government warmly received the Tibetans, housing some of them 5 miles from Leh in the townlet of Choglamsar. It is there that I found the Central Institute for Buddhist Studies (CIBS), the contents of whose library I wished to engage with. The journey to CIBS was made by sharing one of the many jeeps that work the route, costing a meagre 20 rupees one-way. On reaching the campus, one encounters a series of clean, pristine, modern building blocks all agleam under a bright sun, with a backdrop of mountains quite conducive to academic endeavour. The spacious grounds were dotted with young, book-reading, claret-cloaked monks; pretty schoolgirls gossiping about life and studies; while other pupils serenely carved large statues of the Buddha in the open-air. Despite arriving unannounced, I was received warmly and given the use of their fascinating little library, whose comprehensive specialty books on both Ladakh and Mahayana Buddhism I could only have rummaged through in this obscure corner of the planet.
For almost two millennia, the version of Christ as depicted in the New Testament glimmered like a ghost among the meagre biographical offerings stored in the four Gospels. This entrenched state of affairs finally began to change towards the tail-end of the 19th century, when the standardized Jesus was all-of-a-sudden given a complete transfusion of life-blood through the publication of a single book. This infamous tome had the audacity to place Jesus in India during his so-called missing years – that wide width of time between his sighting in Jerusalem at the age of twelve, and his re-appearance in Judea at thirty. During this period, most Christian scholars have presumed him to have lived and worked as a carpenter in Judea, but a Russian named Nicholas Notovich offered a radically different view to this, firing off a literary cannonball still echoing with great resonance in these our modern days. Notovich had heard a rumour that a text containing information about an Indian Jesus was kept at the Hemis Monastery in Ladakh. On his first visit he was told there was no such manuscript, & left empty-handed. On the return to Leh, however, he was thrown off his horse & broke a leg. Returning to Hemis for recuperation, it was only then that the scrolls were shown to him. Translated & published as ‘The Life of Issa,’ this controversial account describes how Jesus traveled to the sub-continent as a teenager, where he pursued an intense program of study in the sacred scriptures. In the age of Jesus, the Indian world had become more sophisticated than the Roman behemoth even, incredibly advanced in spirituality, sciences & mining; stuffed full of teeming universities & prosperous trade centers, it was the true jewel in the global crown of civilization. For a youth with such an outstanding & expansive mind as Jesus, it was the natural place to harvest his education.
The most significant feature of Notovich’s book is that, for the first time, eastern & western traditions of Jesus are reconciled into one seamless text. The sources, as Notovich tells us, were ancient Tibetan scrolls which were translated to him by the monks at Hemis. According to these, the scrolls had been originally, ‘compiled from diverse copies written in the Thibetan tongue, translated from rolls belonging to the Lassa library and brought from India, Nepal, and Maghada 200 years after Christ.’
The claims made by Notovich caused a great deal of consternation throughout the Christian world, with the beautiful and tranquil idyll of Hemis suddenly becoming the nervous eye at the centre of a theological hurricane. The growing furore startled the monks so much that they hid the scrolls, roundabout the time of the Second World War. Just before, in the 1920s, Swami Nirmalananda Giri described how Swami Trigunatitananda, ‘not only saw the manuscript in Himis, he also was shown two paintings of Jesus. One was a depiction of His conversation with the Samaritan Woman at the well. The other was of Jesus meditating in the Himalayan forest surrounded by wild beasts that were tamed by His very presence.’ The last westerner to see the scrolls was a Swiss matron named Elizabeth Caspari, who the chief librarian of Hemis at the time, Lama Nawong Zangpo, was permitted to examine the manuscripts. Although she could not understand their contents, Lama Zangpo declared to her quite succinctly that ‘these books say your Jesus was here.’
Since Caspari’s visit to Hemis, these precious scraps of paper seem to have vanished completely. Such a lack of hard evidence inevitably led to a growing sense of academic indifference to the text, treating it at best as an unprovable curio, and at worst a complete fraud. Whether they were real or not, the legend of the scrolls had been firmly established, and throughout the twentieth century a series of scholars made the trek to Hemis hoping to see them at first hand. One of these hardy spirits was the young Holger Kersten, author of the widely-read, ‘Jesus Lived in India,’ who describes his experience as follows; ‘with an understanding smile, the wise lama instructed me first to find the Truth for myself, before attempting to convert the whole world… Finally, the old man informed me that the scriptures in question had already been looked for, but nothing could be found.’
Roll on four decades and it seems that somebody at Hemis had found the scrolls. This vital reference is found buried in an Indian newspaper story concerning a Buddhist spiritual leader called Kyabje Thuksey Rinpoche, who just also happened to be the top lama of Hemis monastery. He told the Hindu Times (June, 23rd 2013), ‘we have a hand-written manuscript of Jesus Christ in our secret library but we have not yet got the opportunity to make it public to the world.’ If the top lama of Hemis, a man very much in the know, admits to possessing such controversial scrolls, who are we to claim any different? At a stroke ‘The Life of Issa’ by Notovich gains an element of academic credibility, and several months after the article’s appearance I found myself in a taxi, piercing the lofty desert of Ladakh on the way to Hemis monastery itself. On arrival at that magical place, the scrolls were as elusive as ever, for the lama had gone to Delhi for several weeks on spiritual business. I personally expect that one day in the future the scrolls might be put on display for the world to see, but on wandering amid the sheer beauty of Hemis, I could understand the case for keeping them hidden and preserve the tranquility of the monastery from hordes of camera-wielding pilgrims. Returning to Leh empty-handed, I would have to find Jesus another way, beginning with the relevant section of Notovich’s ‘Life’ which describes Issa’s time in India:
When Issa was thirteen years old, the age at which an Isrealite is expected to marry, the modest house of his parents became a meeting place of the rich & illustrious, who were anxious to have as son-in-law the young Issa, who was already celebrated for the edifying discourses he had made in the name of the All-powerful. Then Issa secretly absented himself from his father’s house: left Jerusalem, & in a train of merchants, journeyed towards the Sindh.
Fame spread the name of the marvelous youth along the northern Sindh, and when he came through the country of the five streams and Radjipoutan, the devotees of the god Djaïne asked him to stay among them.
But he left the deluded worshippers of Djaïne and went to Djagguernat, in the country of Orsis, where repose the mortal remains of Vyassa-Krishna, and where the white priests of Brahma welcomed him joyfully.
They taught him to read and to understand the Vedas, to cure physical ills by means of prayers, to teach and to expound the sacred Scriptures, to drive out evil desires from man and make him again in the likeness of God.
He spent six years in Djagguernat, in Radjagriha, in Benares, and in other holy cities. The common people loved Issa, for he lived in peace with the Vaisyas and the Sudras, to whom he taught the Holy Scriptures.
But the Brahmins and the Kshatriyas told him that they were forbidden by the great Para-Brahma to come near to those who were created from his belly and his feet;
That the Vaisyas might only hear the recital of the Vedas, and this only on the festal days, and That the Sudras were not only forbidden to attend the reading of the Vedas, but even to look on them; for they were condemned to perpetual servitude, as slaves of the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas and even the Vaisyas.
“Death alone can enfranchise them from their servitude,” has said Para-Brahma. “Leave them, therefore, and come to adore with us the gods, whom you will make angry if you disobey them.”
But Issa, disregarding their words, remained with the Sudras, preaching against the Brahmins and the Kshatriyas.
He declaimed strongly against man’s arrogating to himself the authority to deprive his
fellow-beings of their human and spiritual rights.
“Verily,” he said, “God has made no difference between his children, who are all alike dear to Him.”
The white priests and the warriors, who had learned of Issa’s discourse to the Sudras, resolved upon his death, and sent their servants to find the young teacher and slay him.
But Issa, warned by the Sudras of his danger, left by night Djagguernat, gained the mountain, and settled in the country of the Gautamides, where the great Buddha Sakya-Muni came to the world, among a people who worshipped the only and sublime Brahma.
When the just Issa had acquired the Pali language, he applied himself to the study of the sacred scrolls of the Sutras.
After six years of study, Issa, whom the Buddha had elected to spread his holy word, could perfectly expound the sacred scrolls.
He then left Nepaul and the Himalaya mountains, descended into the valley of Radjipoutan and directed his steps toward the West, everywhere preaching to the people the supreme perfection attainable by man.
Notovich’s ‘Djagguernat’ temple is the same as the Jaggernatha temple in Puri, over whose precincts I heard of the ‘Life of Issa’ in the first place. The Jesus it describes is a deeply erudite scholar who embraces the teachings of both Buddhist and Vedic theologies. He was a creative and independent thinker, branching out into his own personalized dogmas and preaching universal acceptance to all who wished to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Just as the Jewish leaders, the Sanhedrim, had reacted badly to Jesus in Judea, Issa’s radical new message was met with indignance by those who held the religious status quo in India. The main point of offence was Issa’s rejection of the caste system, and his pronouncement that, ‘God has made no difference between his children, who are all alike dear to Him,‘ a notion which neatly reflects the Gospels’, ‘Jesus pronounced many ‘woes’ to the scribes, Pharisees and hypocrites… For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.’ (Matthew 23:13). During my researches in the National Library in Edinburgh, I had discovered that the anti-establishment, God-loves-everybody message as preached in the Life of Issa is also promulgated by a Sanskrit text called the Vajra Sucha, composed 2000 years ago by a certain Asvaghosha…
Next Wednesday, 29/11/17