Sacred Texts  Buddhism  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

The Creed of Half Japan, by Arthur Lloyd, [1911], at

p. 76


The Call from China

We will assume, then, that Christian preachers visited India somewhere about A.D. 45, and that the story of St. Thomas having been martyred near Mathura, on the Jumna, in Central India, or at Mailapûr, on the Tamil coast, about A.D. 51 (this being the year traditionally assigned for his martyrdom), is not an absolutely improbable one. These men would have brought no Christian books with them; they would have their own memories of the things that they had seen or heard, and they may have had, or have made, logia, or short pithy sayings of or about Christ, such as have recently been found in Egypt, and such as St. Matthew is supposed to have jotted down before composing his Gospel. And they possibly had some converts.

Now, in the year 64 A.D., the Chinese Emperor Ming-ti had a dream. On several successive nights there stood before him a man in golden raiment, holding in his hand a bow and arrows, pointing him to the west. The emperor was much moved by his vision, and, divining its purpose, determined to send men to the west to seek for the mabito 1 ( ) "the true man" of his vision. There was at this moment no commanding figure in Buddhism to whom the words could apply. As’vaghosha might have

p. 77

been such a man, but As’vaghosha is connected with the reign of Kanishka (circa A.D. 120), and his days were not yet. But there had lately been, and in the faith of his followers there still spiritually was, such a Man, and it is quite within the bounds of reason to suppose that rumours of such a person had reached the Chinese court at Lôyang. We have only to consider that the active silk trade between China and the luxurious early empire of Rome was in the hands of the Jews, whose headquarters were in Antioch; that these Jews had colonies and trade posts all along the route to the distant East; that their furthest outpost was at Kaifongfu, in Honan, where a miserable colony of their descendants still subsists to bear witness to a buried past; that Jews from Parthia were amongst those who were impressed by the events of the day of Pentecost;—we have only to consider these things to understand how extremely probable it was that rumours of the mabito should reach China. The Roman Empire had good roads; the Parthians had inherited good roads from the Persians and the Seleucid Greeks; China under the Han was a progressive military power, and must have had them. The journey from Antioch to the Chinese capital at Lôyang would not occupy more than a year and a half, and already thirty years had elapsed since the Crucifixion and Pilate's testimony to the mabito—Ecce Homo!

Further, although it was not until the year A.D. 75 or so that the great Chinese general Panchao started on the great military expedition which brought the Chinese arms victoriously to the shores of the Caspian Sea, and made the Celestial Empire for a few years almost the next-door neighbour of Rome, it is certain that the Central Asian troubles which caused that expedition were already brewing, and the solution of them was already occupying the

p. 78

minds of Chinese statesmen. We can hardly imagine such a great expedition being planned without some previous study of the actual conditions of the countries concerned, and we can readily understand that such an inquiry might bring the fact of Christ to the cognizance of the officials. The inquiry might have led them to an explanation of the "Great One Descending Man," looked for by the Jews of Kaifongfu. 1

At any rate, Ming-ti, warned by his dream, sends his commissioners to the West. There were eighteen of them, their names, or at least some of them, are given, and they start for India. According to the most authentic form of the story, 2 they never reached India, for on the road they met two monks toiling over the mountain passes, and leading a white horse laden with the impedimenta of their journey. The names of these two travellers were Kaśyapa Matanga and Dharmaraksha, or Gobharana. The white horse was laden with Scriptures and Buddhist images, and they were on their road to China to preach the gospel. Buddhism had now been in the world for five centuries at least, and had, as we have seen in a previous chapter, amply recognized its calling as a world-religion. One is tempted to ask with wonder, Why should China, so nearly related to northern and north-western India, have been left so long without a preacher?

There was something about these men—possibly the white horse—which satisfied the Chinese commissioners that they had found what they wanted. They turned back with their newly made acquaintances to the Chinese capital, where the missionaries were well received and lodged in a monastery which still exists, the oldest in China, the celebrated Pomash (Jap. Hakubaji), the oldest existing temple in China, "the Monastery of the White

p. 79

[paragraph continues] Horse." It is evident that the White Horse made a great impression on China, an impression which apparently reached Japan as well. 1

Kaśyapa Matanga and Dharmaraksha reached China in A.D. 67. Three years later, in A.D. 70, they both died. They had had but a short sojourn in China; but it was not altogether a fruitless one. The "Bukkyō Mondō Shū" gives us, in the chapter from which I have already quoted, certain particulars of their workings. They at once attracted many inquirers (coming as they did in answer to an Imperial dream, they could not well have done otherwise), and the Taoists and Confucianists were at once stirred up to jealousy. Their enemies applied to the emperor, and Ming-ti, desirous of doing what was right, appointed a day for a public discussion. Not much could be done in that line, however; for the one side knew no Chinese, and the other no Sanskrit. But there were other tests which the missionaries and their friends stood triumphantly. Buddhist relics refused to be broken by sledge-hammers, Buddhist books emitted a gentle light and refused to be burned in the fire, and the two Buddhist monks compelled the attention of a large audience by speeches in Sanskrit, which, strangely enough, every one understood. There are echoes, as it were, in this story, of Elijah and the priests of Baal, of

p. 80

the Children in the Furnace, of the Pentecostal experience, which are very strange. We shall find the same story as to the relics in Japan, and the Buddhists of Ceylon claim the same thing for their Tooth of Buddha.

Four books are put to the credit of these two missionaries in Nanjo's "Catalogue of Tripitaka," of which, however, only one survives. One of the best books is said to have been a life of Buddha, which some have identified with the "Buddha caritâ" 1 of As’vaghosha, an impossibility, seeing that the day of As’vaghosha had not yet come. The book that survives, that has weathered the many vicissitudes of Chinese history, the fires 2 and other catastrophes, is known as the "Sūtra of the Forty-Two Sections." It is not in the form of a dialogue as are most other Sūtras, but is merely a collection of short pithy sayings of "the Buddha," loosely strung together, and provided with a short introduction setting forth the place and time at which Buddha is supposed to have spoken them. It has been conjectured (though I believe there is no definite authority for the conjecture) that the missionaries, finding handbooks in use with short extracts from the writing of Confucius, conceived the idea of composing a similar book with extracts from the Buddhist Sūtras, and that the "Sūtra of the Forty-Two Sections" was the result. It may be so. The book has undergone many editions and revisions, and any one who knows the East knows that the Chinese are adepts in the culinary

p. 81

art. It is a possible belief that we have in the "Sutra of the Forty-Two Sections" a collection of logia, containing short pithy sayings of the Master, and prepared for the use of missionaries such as were Kaśyapa Matanga and Dharmaraksha, working in a new land without proper books in the vernacular; but a conjecture has before this been made that these two men were not Buddhist missionaries, but Christians, disciples of St. Thomas, who is still, I believe, to this day commemorated in Nestorian liturgies as the Apostle of India and China. Qui per alium facit per se facit.

The reasons available are as follows:—

1. It is known that there were such logia among early Christians. I believe I am right in saying that there are no similar logia in the whole range of Buddhist Sutra literature, except those which were compiled about this period for like purposes.

2. The fact that we have in the "Pistis Sophia" the introduction of a Buddhist Sutra, taken by some Gnostic cordon bleu and served with suitable garnishings as the introduction to a book concerning Christ, seems to suggest the feasibility of the reverse process, and that a Christian book might similarly be taken by some Chinese literary cook and served up to the devout in China as a Buddhist book, with a suitable introduction to give local colour and tone.

3. The main contents of the book will be found, on the whole, to be not in disagreement with Christian doctrines, and far more suitable for Christian purposes than the Epistle of St. James (which has been claimed as a Buddhist writing) would be for the use of disciples of S’akyamuni.

4. We shall see, from a study of Buddhist art, that whereas the early Buddhist sculptures invariably treat

p. 82

the Master as absent, thus carrying out the spirit of the Sanskrit title for Buddha, i.e. the Tathāgata, "the one that went thus (as he said)," in the post-Christian art of Gandhāra, he is always represented as a Being that is present amongst his disciples, and, being present, very often depicted in Greek or Græco-Roman costume. The "one that had gone" had been changed to "the one that had come," whose Presence (παρουσία) was recognized by his followers. This first mission to China, the first official introduction, be it remembered, of a new faith to China (for whatever Buddhism there had been before this time must have been quite unofficial), must be held responsible for the invention of suitable "characters" through which to introduce to the Chinese literati the idea of the Tathāgata. And the characters they chose ( ), the Chinese Julai, the Japanese Nyorai, convey the idea of the parousia. "He that comes thus (as was expected)," the Great One Descending Man of the Kaifongfu Jews. It is a very significant change.

5. Still more significant is the character which must have been introduced to represent Buddha ( ), the Chinese Fo, the Japanese hotoke. The component parts of this character are said to represent a man ( ) with a bow ( ) and arrows ( ); and we may suppose the two missionaries to have said to the people of Lôyang (the ancient capital of China), "We have come to tell you of the Mabito, of the true man, of the man with the bow and arrow whom your Emperor saw in his vision." It is possible (for there were Greeks living in India, as we have seen) that under the Indian names of these two missionaries there may have lurked a Greek nationality. At any rate, the character they chose is capable of another signification, besides the one usually given—the three first letters of the name of the Perfect Man, our cherished

p. 83

[paragraph continues] Christian monogram, , the man with the bow and arrows! 1

6. We may suppose this character for Buddha to have been introduced to China about the year 68 A.D. There are many competent scholars who assign to the year 67 A.D. the composition of the Book of Revelation. In that book the author, after a rapid survey of the Churches under his immediate Apostolic guidance, and after a vision of God in His glory, proceeds to tell his readers the things that must shortly come to pass. The immediate future is a sealed book with many seals which none but the Lamb may open. The first seal is broken (Rev. vi. 2), and St. John is told to come and see "a white horse, and he that sat on it had a bow, and a crown was given unto him, and he went forth conquering and to conquer."

There are Christians who say that the New Testament is a book that is all fulfilled, that the end of which Christ spoke in His discourse on the Mount of Olives was accomplished at the siege of Jerusalem, and that we should think of the saints who took part in that first resurrection as already gathered around Christ in the heavenly places. One of the signs given was that the Gospel of the Kingdom should be first preached unto all nations for a witness, and then the end should come. It is certain that Christianity reached England and Spain and the lands of the furthest West about the same time that the White Horse reached China. If we could trace the Ethiopian Eunuch or the labours of other Apostles, we might be astonished to find how far to the south the gospel travelled in those early days. For a thing which is really a gospel requires no elaborate machinery or organization to push it

p. 84

on. It is recognized as "good news," and it travels from mouth to mouth.

The White Horse in the Apocalypse was followed by others, red, black, pale, the symbols of War, of Famine, of Death. Nothing was done by the Buddhists of India to follow up this mission of the White Horse—a fact which seems to point to its not having been a Buddhist mission at all, for the Buddhists would surely not have neglected to follow up so gracious an invitation from so powerful a monarch as Ming-ti. But suppose it to have been a Christian preacher that went to China, and we may, in the confusions that followed in Europe and Asia, find abundant reasons for the cessation of Christian missionary effort. The seed had been scattered very widely—the testimony had been delivered, by St. Paul before Nero, by some unknown preacher before the Great Han Emperor. Then the labourers fell asleep, and the enemy came to sow the tares. Those first men were sent forth only to give a testimony, and when the testimony had been delivered the End of the Age came. 1


76:1 Murakami, "Handbook of Buddhism," p. 290. The story will be found in the S.P.C.K. "Handbook of Chinese Buddhism."

78:1 See above, p. 50.

78:2 Bukkyō Kakushu Kōyō," vol. i. chap. i. p. 4.

79:1 In "Bukkyō Mondō Shu," vol. i. p. 34, in a discussion on As’vaghosha as the patron saint of silk-culture (he is so considered in the provinces of Shinshu and Echigo, and perhaps elsewhere in Japan), there is a mention of As’vaghosha in connection with the White Horse. He is said to have appeared as a thousand white horses, to have made a thousand white birds sing, to have assumed the forms of countless silkworms, to have spun thousands of cocoons, to have saved many thousands of living creatures. The Shingon speaks of him as an incarnation of Vairoc’ana, who, in the days of his flesh, was the Eighth Patriarch of Buddhism. There are several temples in Japan in which a white horse is constantly kept.

80:1 In "Sacred Books of the East," vol. xlix. Bukkyō Mondo Shu (l.c.) correctly gives As’vaghosha's approximate date as "during the sixth century after the Nirvana."

80:2 Chinese history has several "bibliothecal catastrophes," as they are termed, when, by order of the Government, all books were burned except a few favoured ones on practical subjects. But these catastrophes sometimes occurred at a time when China was divided into several kingdoms, and then of course they did not apply to the whole empire.

83:1 Compare what has been said above of the "Divine Name of the Six Letters."

84:1 A good translation of the Sutra of the Forty-Two Sections will be found in "Sermons by a Buddhist Abbot." Chicago, Open Court, 1905.

Next: Chapter X. Buddhism just before the Coming of Christianity