Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Early Christian Influence on Asian Buddhism

This past weekend an acquaintance in the community I was visiting with our intern equated the Christian faith with the West in at least two negative statements he made. The implication was that it isn't an Asian faith. I corrected him by stating that Christianity in fact originated in the East, but I don't think that fact sunk in.

In "The Lost History of Christianity", Philip Jenkins highlights the forgotten history of the early Asian church. He also shares the following anecdote. In 782 the Indian Buddhist missionary Prajna arrived in the Chinese imperial capital of Chang'an, but was unable to translate the Sanskrit sutras he brought along with him due to having limited Chinese. No problem... just ask the local indigenous Christians for help!

The Christian bishop Adam, himself an Asian and whose name heads the list on the Nestorian monoment, had already translated parts of the Bible into Chinese. Either out of intellectual curiosity or from ecumenical goodwill, he helped this Buddhist missionary with his translation. Japanese monks in Chang'an at this time took these very translations back with them to Japan, where they became the founding texts of the two great Buddhist schools Shingon and Tendai which influenced all the famous Buddhist movements of later Japanese history. Scholars still speculate whether Adam either subconsciously or consciously worked Christian concepts into the translated sutras. (Jenkins, p. 16)