THE 'JESUS SUTRA'S OF CHINA --A.D. 600'S-Rediscovering the Lost Scrolls of Taoist Christianity

                                                  Part of the Silk Roads



The sutras date from between 635 AD, the year of Christianity's introduction to China; and 1005, when the Mogao Cave, near Dunhuang, in which they were found was sealed.





                                          Tang Dynasty China


About this Book:- 

In 1907, explorers discovered a vast treasure trove of ancient scrolls, silk paintings, and artifacts dating from the 5th to 11th centuries A.D.  in a long-sealed cave in a remote region of China.  Among them, written in Chinese, were scrolls that recounted a history of Jesus' life and teachings in beautiful Taoist concepts and imagery that were unknown in the West. These writings told a story of Christianity that was by turns unique and disturbing, hopeful and uplifting. The best way to describe them is collectively, with a term they themselves use: The Jesus Sutras
                                Mogao Caves or Grottos
The extent, size, and diversity of the Church of the East is perhaps one of the best-kept secrets of Western Christian history, which has traditionally dismissed the Church of the East as Nestorian and therefore heretical. At its peak in the eighth century, this once mighty Church far outstripped the Church of the West in the size, scale, and range of cultures within which it operated. Unlike many of the missions of the Church of the West to the Germanic tribes and the Anglo-Saxons in England, for example, the Church of the East was dealing with ancient, highly literate, civilized cultures and peoples. It had to find its way in a world where theological writings, philosophical debate, and schools of education had been in existence for hundreds, even thousands of years. It was a remarkably different world from the world of the West, and it produced remarkably different churches and forms of Christianity. Perhaps one of its greatest achievements was the Taoist Christian culture and the writings of the Jesus Sutras.

 

List of sutras

The following list gives some approximate English titles for the various writings. Scholars are still debating the best translation for many of the terms. Until a good modern edition appears, P. Saeki remains the most convenient source for the Chinese texts.

 Doctrinal sutras

  1. Sutra on Almsgiving of the World-Honored One, Part Three (一神(天)論(世尊布施論第三).
  2. Sutra on the Oneness of Heaven (一天論第一).
  3. Sutra on the Origin of Origins (大秦景教宣元本經). An inscribed pillar discovered in Luoyang in 2006 supplements the incomplete version from Dunhuang.
  4. Sutra of Hearing the Messiah (序聽迷詩所經)

 Liturgical sutras

  1. Da Qin Hymn of Perfection of the Three Majesties (大秦景教三威蒙度贊).
  2. The Sutra of Ultimate and Mysterious Happiness.(志玄安樂經)
  3. Let Us Praise (大秦景教大聖通真歸法贊). This text is suspected of being a modern forgery.
ORIGINAL NATURE, NOT ORIGINAL SIN

One core concept that shapes all the liturgical Sutras is that of original nature. This is radically at variance with traditional Christian thought, which has tended to emphasize the defects of humanity: the fault of Original Sin. In China, the tables are dramatically turned. The Church of the East broke away from the West just in time to avoid the magnificence and the curse of St. Augustine of Hippo, who took the basic notion of original sin and built it into the destructive force it was to become. In looking at the theology of the Church of the East, we can see what Christianity without St. Augustine might have been like.

St. Augustine saw humanity as almost irredeemably wicked and perverse, rejecting any idea of some innate goodness. To him, salvation is an entirely undeserved act of grace that plucks us from our filthy state of evil. Augustine was opposed in his time by the first British theologian on record, a monk named Pelagius, who argued the opposite, that human nature was basically good but had been corrupted and misguided by human weakness. The theology of Augustine triumphed in the West, but it was a theology similar to Pelagius’s that triumphed in China.

The term “original nature” or “innate nature,” occurs in both Taoist and Buddhist thought. It signifies that all life is innately good but becomes corrupt or loses its way through the compromises of life and existence. A wonderful example of what this means is given in the writings of Zhuang Zi, the Taoist philosopher and wit of the fourth century p.c.: “Horses have hooves so that their feet can grip on frost and snow, and hair so that they can withstand the wind and cold. They eat grass and drink water, they buck and gal- lop, for this is the innate nature of horses. Even if they had great towers and magnificent halls, they would not be interested in them. However, when Po Lo [renowned as the first and greatest trainer of horses] came on the scene, he said, ‘I know how to train horses: He branded them, cut their hair and their hooves, put halters on their heads, bridled them, hobbled them and shut them up in stables. Out of ten horses, at least two or three die …. The people have a true nature, they weave their cloth, they farm to produce food. This is their basic virtue.” Zhuang shows how people have been corrupted by those who wished to control them, just as the poor horses were destroyed and damaged by the actions of Po Lo.

This idea of original nature could not be further from the concept of original sin. So the later Sutras adapted to the Chinese view that human nature was essentially good but could be distorted. In these Christian Sutras from China is the shape or outline of a post-Augustinian theology that the West itself needs in order to become free from the burden of original sin and thus reconfigure or rediscover Christianity. Given that original sin was unknown as a central theme of Christian thought before the early fifth century, it is possible to agree with Pelagius that true Christianity holds a notion of original goodness. In a post-Augustian Christian world, this rediscovery, embodied in the actual books and thoughts of a major ancient Church, may well be a version of christianity that can speak to spiritual seekers today.

All these liturgical Sutras celebrate freedom from karma, reincarnation, and the power of death, and the possibility of spiritual freedom from these forces on earth as well as in heaven. As Jesus said when asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was to come, “The coming of the Kingdom of God does not admit of observation and there will be no one to say ‘Look here! Look there!’ For you must know, the kingdom of God is among you” (Luke 18:20-21). These Sutras celebrate the inherent reality of that spiritual liberation.

The Sutra of Returning to Your Original Nature:-
{Jingjing should be recognized as a Dharma King: a saint. One of the most outstanding Christians ever produced by China, he is also, to the best of our limited knowledge, the greatest product of the Tang Dynasty Church in China. He wrote works that are masterpieces of world spirituality in his ability to interpret to a Chinese world the significance of Jesus’ human incarnation. He deserves to be recovered from obscurity and recognized by contemporary spiritual seekers with the same admiration and affection that his own Church clearly had for him}
This is why I say: no wanting, no doing, no piousness, no truth.

'These are the Four Essential Laws.
They cannot teach you in themselves
But follow them and you will be free
From trying to sort out what to believe.
Feel compassion, and be compassionate over and again
Without trying to show it off to anyone.
Everyone will be freed this way-
And this is called the Way to Peace and Happiness.'

The Stone Sutra:-
'He beat up the primordial winds and the two vapors were created. He differentiated the gray emptiness and opened up the sky and the earth. He set the sun and moon on their course and day and night came into being. He crafted the myriad things and created the first people. He gave to them the original nature of goodness and appointed them as the guardians of all creation. Their minds were empty; they were content; and their hearts were simple and innocent. Originally they had no desire, but under the influence of Satan, they abandoned their pure and simple goodness for the glitter and the gold. Falling into the trap of death and lies, they became embroiled in the three hundred and sixty-five forms of sin. In doing so, they have woven the web of retribution and have hound themselves inside it. Some believe in the material origin of things; some have sunk into chaotic ways; some think that they can receive blessings simply by reciting prayers; and some have abandoned kindness for treachery. Despite their intelligence and their passionate pleas, they have got nowhere. Forced into the ever-turning wheel of fire, they are burned and obliterated. Having lost their way for eons, they can no longer return.'

In the Sutras, Jesus is called “the Jade-Faced One,” because, for the Daoists, jade is the stone of immortality. In the Sutras, the doctrine of original sin has no place. Creation is innately good. Concepts of dharma and reincarnation are explored. There is even feminism. The Sutra of the Teachings of the World-Honored One explains that Eve’s sin in Eden is fully expiated by the women who are the first to see the evidence of the risen Christ, saying:
As the first woman caused the lies of humanity, so it was women who first told the truth about what had happened, to show all that the Messiah forgave women and wished them to be treated properly in the future. (Ch 5:32)
The early Chinese Church taught that not only feminine nature, but all human nature is in harmony with Nature itself. The Stone Sutra explains that, as in Daoist philosophy, the whole of creation is intrinsically good. Only when humans allow the goodness that is their birthright to be invaded by foolishness, greed, envy and pride do they become inharmonious with the rest of creation. “Original sin”—the doctrine that “in Adam’s fall/ we sinned all”—is not mentioned.

Sino-Syriac Inscription courtesy Kirschner Museum at Stanford Correspondence Project
“These Teachings are Inexhaustible”

Instead of a viewpoint that sees all of humanity laboring under a curse, the early Chinese Church found much in Daoist teachings that reflected its more loving beliefs.
All of you should chant this day and night,
Because it brings back clear seeing,
And each of you will return to your own original nature,
Your ultimately true beingness,
Free from all falsehood and illusion.
And you will see these teachings are inexhaustible.

Anyone, even if they only have a little love
Can walk the Bright Path, and they will suffer no harm.
This is the way that leads to Peace and Happiness.
And they can come to this even from the darkest of darks.
If you really follow the Sutras, imagine how easy this could be!

“Following the Sutras,” in Seventh-Century China, meant opening to the possibilities exemplified by Jesus. It meant peeling off layers of ignorance and greed to reveal the glory that is our truth, not crushing any inherited wickedness.

It is not only in teachings on The Fall that the Chinese Church is so wonderfully different from what we might expect. The Stone Sutra’s version of the Ten Commandments echoes Buddhism in forbidding the taking of any life and Confucian thought in encouraging the veneration of parents. In fact, the Decalogue itself becomes interwoven with the Sermon on the Mount, as the passage below suggests.
The first covenant of God is that anything that exists and does evil will be punished, especially if they do not respect the elderly.

The second covenant is to honor and care for elderly parents. Those who do this will be true followers of Heaven’s Way.

The third covenant is to acknowledge we have been brought into existence through our parents. Nothing exists without parents.

The fourth covenant is that anybody who understands the precepts should know to be kind and considerate to everything, and to do no evil to anything that lives.

The fifth covenant is that any living being should not take the life of another living being, but should also teach others to do likewise.

The sixth covenant is that nobody should commit adultery, or persuade anyone else to do so.

The seventh covenant is not to steal.

The eighth covenant is that nobody should covet a living man’s wife, or his lands, or his palace, or his servants.

The ninth covenant is not to let your envy of somebody’s good wife, or son, or house or gold, lead you to bear false witness against them.

The tenth covenant is only to offer to God that which is yours to give.
There are even a few “extras.”
If a poor person begs for money, give generously. If you have no money, have the courtesy to explain why you can only give a little help.

If someone is seriously ill or handicapped do not mock, because this is the result of karma and not to be ridiculed.
Good counsel is not all that the Sutras offer. The following passage illustrates how far beyond Judaic tradition the Chinese Christians ranged.
Now, what are the Four Essential Laws of the Dharma?
The first is no wanting. If your heart is obsessed with something,
It manifests in all kinds of distorted ways.
Distorted thoughts are the root of negative behavior . . .

The second is no doing. Don't put on a mask and pretend to be what you’re not . . .
The effort needed to hold a direction is abandoned,
And there is simply action and reaction.
So walk the Way of No Action.

The third is no piousness. And what that means
Is not wanting to have your good deeds broadcast to the nation.
Do what's right to bring people to the truth
But not for your own reputation’s sake.
So anyone who teaches the Triumphant Law,
Practicing the Way of Light to bring life to the truth,
Will know Peace and Happiness in company.
But don't talk it away. This is the Way of No Virtue.

The fourth is no absolute. Don't try to control everything,
Don't take sides in arguments about right and wrong.
Treat everyone equally, and live from day to day.
It’s like a clear mirror that reflects everything anyway:
Green or yellow or in any combination-
It shows everything, as well as the smallest of details.
What does the mirror do? It reflects without judgment.
Such ancient teachings resonate for contemporary people. The Sutra of Returning to your Original Nature offers words from the living Jesus that speak across the ages.
                                          THE LAST SUPPER
Then He spoke to the assembled crowd and said:This Sutra is profound and unimaginable.
All the gods and gurus agree on this, and acknowledge
This Way that is the essences of connection and return.
To move you need light to see by — this teaching provides it
Just as the sun slants out, so you can see what is in front of you,
This Sutra offers understanding, and by its light
You can know the Way of Peace and Happiness in your heart.

If anyone wants to share these teachings with friends or family
Of course they can. Honor them, sing and pray together —
And this will bless you and your family into the next generation.
Every generation is united in this communion —
From goodness in past lives, people come to this religion
And through the faith they have they find Happiness.
It’s like the spring rain that refreshes everything —
If you have roots, you will flourish in its coming.
Ch.3 :12 – 19.
The discovery of a site so long hidden is wonderful. Finding art that so beautifully fuses Chinese and non-Chinese traditions is deeply satisfying and instructive. Knowing more about the forms that surrounded the early Church in China contributes much to our human heritage.

The spiritual teachings once imparted within these forms contribute even more. The Jesus Sutras urge respect, kindness, gentleness, and receptivity. To understand them is to peer into an almost-forgotten distant past. To understand them is to light a path to a possible future. Contemplating “The Jade-Faced One” and the Church built around him in China may allow a model of Christianity that is not only ancient but well-fitted for contemporary life, a revelation not only of what has passed away, but of what can come to be.
Of the 50,000 manuscripts discovered at Dunhuang, only eight comprise what are now known as the Jesus Sutras. Nevertheless, they clearly show Christian influence. They paraphrase passages from the New Testament and thus provide direct evidence that the ancient Chinese writers of these texts clearly knew the Gospel accounts:
“Do not pile up treasures on the ground where they will rot or be stolen. Treasures must be stored in Heaven where they will not decay or rot.”
“Always tell the truth. Do not give pearls to swine; they will trample and destroy them. You will only be blamed by them for your actions and incur their anger. Why don’t you realize this yourself.”
“Knock on the door and it will be opened for you. Whatever you seek, you will obtain from the One Spirit. Know on the door and it will be opened for you.”
“Look at the birds in the air. They don’t plant or harvest, they have no barns or cellars. In the wilderness the One Spirit provided for the people and will also provide for you. You are more important than the birds and should not worry.”
The Jesus Sutra texts clearly are attempting to translate Christian ideas and ideals into an idiom that the Chinese people — steeped in Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian concepts — can understand. Thus, the Jesus Sutras speak of the “Higher Dharma” that leads to Peace and Joy. “It is the Sutras of the Luminous Religion that enable us to cross the sea of birth and death to the other shore, a land fragrant with the treasured aroma of Peace and Joy,” the Sutras proclaim. “The Sutras are like a great fire burning upon a high mountain. The light from that fire shines upon all.”