12/3/12 Non-Western Religious Traditions

Pangur Agthaporus

Jesus Sutras: A Fusion of Horizons
The first Jesus Sutra, The World-Honored One, is paradigmatic to the fusion of cultural and faith between Christianity and Taoism that occurred in 7th century China. In order to understand how and why these two very different religious traditions morphed into what is now known as the Jesus Sutra‟s. This textual analysis will use a framework that observes the sacredtext as a process of „linguistically mediated happening of traditions’1. Whereby this intertextual interpretation (hermeneutics exegesis) is taken in a literal understanding of the dialogue between Aluoben and Taizong. So by imagining what the dialogue might have actually been like, lets say when the Christian missionaries (dressed in long white robes) arrived at the gates bearing sacred books and icons for the Tang dynasty - transpiring in 635 B.C.E. Where upon they were greeted by Emperor T‟ai Tsung and “The kingdom in all its splendor.” The imagery is potent to say the least moreover this imaginary device helps the interpreter to historically orient his own perspective to that of the individuals being studied. And in doing so allows creative imagination (as opposed to empathetic imagination) is essential in trying to understand how and why the synthesis of Christian and Taoist tradition' calcified into the canonization of the Jesus Sutra‟s. One of the most widely held explanations that bridged these two traditions is the supposition that Christian missionaries (who had pre-existing knowledge of Buddhist/Taoist philosophy) tampered with their specific evangelism of Christ through a doctrinal modification of sorts.(cite) Which is to say that they sacrificed their version of Gospel of Thomas to seem to be more compatible with the belief systems of Confucian, Taoist, and indigenous religions – all being practiced in China at that time. So while many scholars insinuate that these Christian missionaries sacrificed their own religious dogma, or doctrinal integrity, to appeal to the various Chinese religious practices. (Cite) It is nonetheless a speculative argument, which is clearly a reductionist explanation for it lacks the interpretive move necessary to account for the fact. That early Christianity, especially under the guidance of the Eastern Syrian Church is epistemologically not as dissimilar to Taoism as one might assume. As many Hagiologist‟s understand, early Christian Ggnocism and/or mysticism, especially the Syrian/Eastern Church‟s, would have been an integral part of the faith systems of apostles like Aluoben(cite). This notion will be visited in detail later but what is key here is that the Gospels Alouben brought into China are entirely compatible and complementary to the Taoist tradition. Or rather that the message appropriated by Alouben concerning Christ‟s narrative and Christian Gnosticism falls directly within the boundaries and precepts of Taoism. So much so that it became quintessential nexus of dialogue that developed between these two traditions. It‟s synthesis into the Jesus Sutra‟ personify the dynamic process that two place between Christianity and Taoist philosophy. Thus, Aluoben‟s message concerning Christ‟s story led to the eschatological consummation of religious dogmas of Taoist, Confucian, and other Chinese indigenous practices. While there are many specific instances of the latter two, here will primarily focus on Taoism, like such ideas as wu-wei (non-action) and the “Perfect Man.” Another aspect that is key to Christian missionaries was their ability or even luck in routinizing Christian tradition into Chinese society following of Aluoben‟s and his compatriots.


While it was no doubt that China‟s post-civil war atmosphere desperately needed to restore some harmony to the cosmic order between man, nature, and the Heavens. And many of the Taoist notions prior to Aluoben‟s arrival exposed messianic prophecies of a savior that would come and restore harmonious balance to the Way (Dao). Accordingly, this allowed the universal message of Christianity to evolve in a fluid environment that was paved by way of the Silk Road. Inasmuch as this allowed for the exchange of dialogue between these two cultures to occur in this intricate synthesized way. But there is much more particularly if we look at the ways in which the Jesus Sutras texts are paradigmatic to what Hans Georg-Gadamer terms as the “Fusion of Horizons”. While peripherally the attempt made herein is to evolve scholarly concepts of religious theory by employing a hermeneutic framework within which Gadamer‟s Theory of “Fusion of Horizons,” will be used to „historically situate‟‟ how and why the synthesis of these two religions precipitated into the Jesus Sutra‟s. To attempt to grasp the unique circumstances in which the first Jesus Sutra were written the proceeding structure will be adapted to provide a method to interpret the precise meaning of the texts. This is a process that relies on an understanding of language as being the medium in which understanding becomes constructed. In effect one might understand how and why these two religions were able to synthesis so effortlessly from the dialogue that initially took place between Alobupen and Emperor Taizhong. By delving into the historical narrative in order to flush out the causal linkages that led to a synthesis of these faiths. The Jesus sutra will provide a literary nexus with which understanding how and why the “Fusion of Horizons” explains this cross-cultural phenomenon. If the theory of the “Fusion of Horizons” holds up against scrutiny it will provide a more holistic intertextual interpretation of the synthesis between Christianity and Taoism traditions that took place in ancient China. In any case if this paper is successful in its endeavor the possibility to help further hermeneutical philosophy in studying religion could be profound, as well as offer new insight into the exchange of dialogue that can be viewed in the Sutras. The notion of „horizon‟ employed here derives from phenomenology according to which the „horizon‟ is the larger context of meaning in which any particular meaningful interpretation is situated. Inasmuch as understanding is taken to involve a „fusion of horizons‟, then so it always involves the formation of a new context of meaning that enables integration of what is otherwise unfamiliar or strange. So if Hermeneutics (termed herein as intertexual interpretation) concerns our fundamental mode of being in the world and understanding is thus the basic phenomenon in our existence. This of course is the acknowledgement that our understanding of the world is achieved through the medium of language.2 As such the process of understanding is analogous to interpretation and its specific application to the Jesus Sutra‟s is quintessentially a matter of historically uncovering the meaning behind the texts. Whereby intertextual interpretation flushes out how and why the engagement of language is synthesized into the Jesus Sutra‟s. This method aptly absolves notions of any non-dualistic framework. Thus by saying that something is lost or gained in either Christianity or Taoist – in their cross-cultural exchange of traditions - is to conceptualize ones interpretation in a dualistic way; that may lead to false views. The many misconstrued notions which are given in explanation of how and why these two traditions synthesized are indeed problematic because they limit our own and others ability to understand the texts. Moreover, they distance the reader from the existential questions that the Sutras try and answer. And so, the move here to employ an intertextual interpretation is in effect


an analytical reasoning that falls directly in line with the predominant interpretative methods and practices developed by Buddhist‟s. To which the first task of interpretation of any doctrine is to uncover its inner meaning in relation to my own prejudices. Whereby ones own prejudices can be taken into context, allow a certain degree of freedom to interpret the text through a phenomenological approach that understands language as the medium of understand. This hemeneutical exegesis follows along the exact same two varying lexical sematic formulas described in Buddhism. One scholar who follows such an approach is Columbia‟s renown scholar Indo-Tibetan Buddhist, Robert A.F. Thurman whose vast knowledge of Eastern philosophy and mysticism leads him to the understanding of how hermeneutical approaches are inherent to Buddhist, Confuscian, and Taoist tradions by explaining that, “Buddhism in particular has been misconceived in this way, due to its emphasis on meditational experience
and non-dualistic wisdom. These misconceptions are quickly cleared away when we examine the role of authority in Buddhist teaching, appreciating the predominantly pedagogic concerns of Śākyamuni during his long tenure as a teacher who sought to encourage the individual disciple's ability to think for himself; the role of analytic reasoning in Buddhist practice, wherein a practitioner's first task is to sift through the complexities of Doctrine to discover its inner meaning as relevant to his own experience and its systematic transformation; the role of hermeneutical strategies in guiding the practitioner's analytical meditations, wherein the first two stages of wisdom (prajñā) are cultivated through a refined discipline of philosophical criticism of all false views (drsti), such as naive realism, nihilism, etc., as to the nature of ultimate reality and of the self; and finally the role of transcendent experience, wherein the transcendence of verbalization is approached not as a non-rational escape into mysticism, but as an affirmation of empiricism, a rational acknowledgement of the fact that reality, even ordinary reality, is never, in the final analysis, reducible to what we may say about it.”3

To further conceptualize Thurman‟s intertextual interpretation method –in relation to Gadamer‟s concept of prejudice – 4 is to understand the process of mutual exchange of dialogue that allows one to assume a holistic perspective of being in context of prejudices with which we view the texts. Insomuch as Thurman draws his intertexual interpretation method as explained above, we can that, within configuring of (wisdom) Prajna through false views (drsti) Buddhism‟s exegesis is a hermeneutic process itself. This framework is derived from the textual source known as the “Four Reliance‟s.” The first reliance with regard to a worthy person is relying on the teaching (dharma) not the worthy person who is teaching. The second reliance is relying on the spirit not the letter of the teaching. The third reliance is relying on Sutras/Sutras of final meaning (nitartha) rather than non-final meaning (neyartha). The fourth reliance is relying on gnosis (jñâna) rather than on discursive thinking (vijñâna). In making this analogy my intent is to show that (hermeneutical) interpretation is a way of understanding that places our prior involvement and partiality, not as a barrier, but rather its enabling condition. Thus within the subjective prejudices of the scholars, which I draw much of my research from, understanding is construed about how and why Taoist and Christian traditions metamorphosed into the Sutra‟s. This notion falls along the line of the Fourth Reliance; in which scholar‟s prejudgments project unto my own understanding of the Jesus Sutra‟s. As such the issue of prejudgment does not hold a negative connotation here. Rather it is by focusing our understanding on these „prejudices‟ that we can begin a dialogue with the Jesus Sutra‟s to „uncover‟ the truth or „correctness‟ that they hold.5 Thus, the “Four Reliance‟s” compels its

http://jaar.oxfordjournals.org/content/XLVI/1/19.short http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/gadamer/#PosPre http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/gadamer/#PosPre



reader to seek meaning beyond normative subjectivities when attempting to interpret sacredtexts.6 After reading much of the discourse that we covered this semester concerning ancient china‟s version of the Silk Road as well as the historical and textual analysis of the Jesus Sutra‟s. I was predisposition to interpret the texts in a dualistic manner. This is to say that my personal dialogue and understanding of the Jesus Sutra‟s was predisposition to view the texts in terms of their Christian and Taoist influences; as two distinct and separate spheres. Yet I came to view this dualistic understanding of the texts as a prejudice that disengaged my dialogue with the text to reductionist precepts. Within the recognition of this finite understanding I took a step back from my work, meditated for ten minutes, and in a more preliminary fashion re-read the Jesus Sutra‟s. To which I then came to the revelation that to read the Jesus Sutra‟s by trying to explain how one verse is Christian and another is Taoist, is in a pejorative sense, a denial of the sanctity and totality of the text. In this reconceptualization of my dialogue with the Jesus Sutra‟s my reliance emphasized spirit, not the letter; final meaning, instead of non-final; Gnosis (jnana), instead of discursive intellect. This reconceptualization enabled my interpretation of the Sutra‟s to take on a whole new meaning, and provided me with the idea of analyzing the texts in a more holistic way that upholds the purity that the texts offers its reader. So as I delve into the various lexical semantics of the Jesus Sutra‟s I provide Heup Y. Kim‟s term, Christao (to connote the fusion of Taoist and Christian traditions) as its empirical usage is an attempt to convey the totality and sanctity of both traditions influences into the Jesus Sutra‟s.7 Furthermore this is basically to situate Taoist tradition as the backbone, and Christianity as the body that gives life to the Jesus Sutra texts. The following intertextual interpretation will follow the same numerical order of the chapters of the first Sutra, The Sutra of the Teachings of the World-Honored One, in which the first chapter of the Sutra is contrasted with the verses of Matthew 6-7 in the New Testament. What first strikes anyone reading chapter 1 of the Sutra is that Jesus is referred to as “The WorldHonored One,” which is misleading if one does not have some basic knowledge of Taoism. So the translation of Jesus into “The World-Honored One” is much more subtle in its exchange than one would think. So if we understand Jesus in terms De, the means through which the Dao (The Way) becomes manifested or actualized8. As well it would be aptly appropriate to configure Christ as the theophanic personification what is known in Taoism/Confucian traditions as the Filial Son or Perfect Man (junzi). Additionally, the opening verse, which is told by “The WorldHonored One,” states that, “If somebody gives alms, they should do it in the knowledge of the World-Honored One.” Here we find the analogy that Jesus is the Dao (The Way). Furthermore, this is to suggest that in giving alms, prayer or even mediation, one should do so in knowledge of Jesus or the Dao. Within this notion we find that the verse implicitly refers to a specific state of mind that is referred in Taoism as Shen, and can be understood as spiritual consciousness or energy, in which it is one of the Three Treasures (along with Qi and Jing) that will, in effect, achieve immortality.9 Therefore one should give alms in such a manner

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/gadamer/#PosPre Heup Kim, The Word Made Flesh (p. 129) 8 Daoism, Brennan (p. 298) 9 http://taoism.about.com/od/immortality/a/Immortality.htm
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that it bestows the true object of Taoism, which is „immortality‟, through knowledge (wisdompranja) of the Dao (Jesus). While on one hand Mathew 6:1 proscribes alms giving to “the Father, which is in Heaven,” and this of course is not the case of the Sutra. But Matthew 6:1 also refers to a “reward” that is bestowed upon the faithful or unfaithful. This “reward” can be found in the after life, which of course is located in heaven, and connotes nothing less than a faithful persons entry into heaven based upon the fruits of their good works. In Taoism, we can also think of this “reward” as analogous to their understanding of Immortality, albeit with some philosophical confusion between different schools to whether it is an earthly or heavenly context‟s. Ultimately, if we can think in terms beyond the translation issues, when the Sutra uses “the world-honored one” in replacement of Matthew‟s “Heavenly Father” its implication is profound. For in the Sutra‟s proclamation to give alms by first cultivating ones “knowledge of “the World-Honored One,” is in essence to conduct ones life in accordance to the ways in which Jesus lived his. The third line of the first chapter in the Jesus Sutra proposes that in giving alms one should, “Pay no attention to outsiders but worship the One Sacred Spirit.” Here, not only do we find the distinction between “the World-Honored One” and the heavenly “Father”, but we also find the basic notions of Taoism‟s understanding of G-d, or the Supreme One (T’ai-i). Within Taoism‟s understanding of the Supreme one (who cosmologically speaking was the first one to awaken the Tao), can we begin to understand how these two - seemingly divergent faith and belief systems - had much more in common before they had even crossed paths. This of course can be interpreted in the canonization of the Jesus Sutras. Also the Taoist idea regarding the Supreme One (T‟ai-i) purports that the deity is part of a heavenly triad in which cosmic/worldly schema places its triadic qualities into vital forces of the human body.10 To which this triad, or Three Ones, mysteriously anthropomorphizes it‟s own cosmic traits into the human bodies three vital powers: breath (Qi), essence or semen (jing), and Spirit (Shen). So as someone, who follows the Way, begins to engage his/herself with various practices that Taoist tradition emphasizes, such as jiao, he/she will begin a process of awakening these three energy forces. 11 The cultivation of Qi, Jing, and Shen is a dynamic process that gradually gives the practioner the conscious perspicacity to understand the nature of Three Ones in relation to his/her own being; the Heavenly Worthy of the Original Beginning; the Heavenly Worthy of the Numinous Jewel; and the Heavenly Worthy of the Tao and Te. The initial stage of this esoteric process will generate what in Taoism is referred to as the - “embryo of immortality.”12 The Taoist concept of the Three can also be applied to Jesus‟s life‟s narrative (inherent to many Gospels), death, and resurrection. While the embodiment of Jesus as the Dao, leads to the exemplification of wu-wei, we can also detect that within Christ‟s several-part message to humanity. It can also be thought of in terms of our own relation to the Tao. I will not go into detail here about this, but it is to say that Three Ones are all aspects of the “Honored One” that are physiologically anthropomorphized into the human body - and can also be thought of in terms of the Trinity (as the one St. Patrick proposed). It would be wise to refer to Chapter 2:19 of the Sutra, that imparts us with the wise words of “We need to get rid of the beam in your eye.” This parable in comparison to Matthew 6:21-22 which reveals to us, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The light Coogan, Eastern Religions (p. 233) Ibid, (p. ?) 12 Coogan (p.235)
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of the body is the eye: if therefore if thine eye be single, they whole body shall be full of light.”i Here both of the texts bear a fascinating resemblance to each other in relation to Taoism‟s ultimate goal of reaching immortality. Of course, what both texts seems to be alluding to is the disease of the mind in which it is, “like an eye that sees, but cannot see itself.” The text‟s of the Sutra implies that this “beam” is blinding ones view of the world, and by its removal we will be able to see the “light” again. The removal of this “beam” appears to be the antithesis of wu-wei that is action, which is contrary to that of the Way, and as such can be nothing less than the minds image of itself, which is construed in its experience of the past. Therefore it would be incumbent upon the learnt of Taoism to align their life to wu-wei that would begin the process of taking out the “beam” of the eye.13 For the learnt will remove the beam from his/her eye by recognizing the impartiality and all-encompassing nature of the Tao, and through being like water with the Tao. Our understanding is transformed from an individual and selfish perspective to understand creation and the experience of being from an ultimate perspective.14 Thus to remove this “beam” is to say that one must act and think, live and die, by drinking from eternal waters of the Three Ones wellspring, which is to view our being in a way that grasps the fact that the source of our being is unknowable and uncontrollable; and yet at the same time this source is ourselves. The ritual of baptism through water is, along this middle path of intertextual interpretation, an allegory for forgetting the minds image of itself go into the void whence it came, for becoming like water is to lose knowledge of the self through which we begin to see that being itself is the unknowable infinity of the Wu (immense void contain all potentialities). Because the learnt mind knows not, he will act without hesitation to any situation that arises out of the void, and thus begins a reversal of this chaotic process of waning and waxing between Yin and Yang forces. By way of living and acting in accordance with the spontaneity that creation is, in its manifest form or pattern. Thus, one does not react with calculated prejudice in life for within this unknowing of being is the wisdom that comes to illuminate the mystery of life itself. The Jesus Sutra expands on this notion when it states, “The first man disobeyed the Honored One‟s Command and ate freely. The effect of this disobedient act, eating freely, was a change of heart. He began to see himself as able of being equal to the Lord, as enlightened as the World-Honored One. As a result he was no longer in accord.”15 This can be thought of as a sort of pride of the ego in which, eating the apple, Adam recognized his „distinct‟ being in the world, and thus lost the primordial knowledge that being are all parts of the same one-being, or the Tao. Of course, this falls into the logic of wu-wei in which the reversal of the “Five Phases” allows the learnt to see pure reality in terms of its untapped creative spontaneity. While I could explain how these triadic relations inherent to Taoism eschatology relate directly to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. As well as the many historical factors that provided the specific context through which Christianity was so easily transferred into Taoist belief system, it would indeed undermine the underlying trend in this paper. Which of course is that the phenomenon of language, in and of itself, is how we come to understand and interpret our experiences in the world. Of course, this process of exchanging dialogue is dependent upon our previous involvements and experiences in life, which form our prejudices about the nature of things. So Martin Palmer, The Jesus Sutras (p. 61) Coogan (p. 249) 15 The Jesus Sutra’s Chapter 4 verse 7-10 (p. 63)
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while there some evidence that a “fusion of horizons” happened between Christian and Taoist traditions, in as much as the understanding of the Jesus Sutra‟s herein embodies this peculiar synthesis. It would however prove fruitless in such attempts by way of projecting the past unto the future. Wherein we can see how, in Taoism, the identification of the mind is, in and of itself, a view reality of being that denies the spontaneity of life itself. This of course can be though of in terms of the Primordial Man‟s loss of the original heart, synonymously with the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis. Interestingly enough, this type of comparative understanding falls directly within the sphere of hermeneutical philosophy, that is a process of dialogue that is always evolving over time. So while I may have not been successful in proving that a “fusion of horizons” happened, it seems that this is precisely where my framework failed. But in its attempts to try and prove „a thing‟, which assumes that my interpretation of the texts is nobler than someone else‟s is to Try and prove that „this thing‟ is equivalent to that thing. Such an understanding is antithetical to the Tao, and as such we must not conceive being in terms preliminary subjectivity of reality. Rather that a „thing‟, in and of itself, is always evolving and subject to the exchange of dialogue that leads to a specific or new way of understanding that thing. So by letting go of our understanding of the personal self we may begin to understand the story of humanity in context of its present situation in time. Thus being fully present in the moment so that this understanding of our being in the world is subject only to the present context of the moment, which theoretically opens up a whole spectrum of possibilities to create a world in which we all can live as one. But to do so is to understand our own prejudices and how they arise to form our understanding of any given situation that involves dialogue. So to answer the original question posed (about how these two traditions either lost or gained „a thing‟ from each other‟s exchange of dialogue) is to argue that nothing is lost and nothing is gained, only various modes of understanding arise mutually, or contrastingly, to form different ways of understanding the world. This is explicit to any hermeneutical philosophy, as it directly involves the evolution of being, through the medium of language itself. While only a couple chapters from the first Jesus Sutra were subject to the process of intertextual interpretation. It is quite interesting that so much can be interpreted from just one verse, or even one word for that matter.

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