Christ - Bodhisattva - Brahman

In the post-Christian era Buddhism split into two major sects as Hinayana and Mahayana. The term Hinayana was coined by the Mahayanists to denote Theravada Buddhism or Old Buddhism.

As per Theravada or Hinayana there is no concept of God. A man can only help another on the way by example and advice. 1 Each being must be a lamp unto himself, and workout his own salvation.2

But the doctrines of Mahayana Buddhism are contradictory to Hinayana Buddhism and according to Mahayana Buddhism there is a God who created the world and Buddha was deified.

"Hermann says that a theory the Buddha differs radically from a theistic God, in religious practice however he admits that within the realm of sentiments on which the 'Lotus Sutra' is based, he obviously shares some features with a gracious "Father in Heaven" who is the protector of men in need".3

"In the Saddharma Pundarika Gantama Buddha is described as the loving father of all creatures, and all pious Buddhists are exhorted to worship and adore him".4

"Buddha claims a very personal relationship with his devotees in chapter III of Saddharma Pundarika............................ I the great seer, am the protector and father of all being and all the creatures who childlike are captivated by the pleasures of the triple world are my sons......... I am the Tathagata, the Lord who has no superior, who appears in this world to save".5 

Thus Buddha was deified and elevated to the status of Supreme God. New doctrines developed in Mahayana Buddhism. The ideal of a Bodhisattva is a hall-mark of Mahayana.6 Different virtues of Buddha were personified as Bodhisattvas.

"The two chief bodhisattvas, Manjusri and Aralokitesvara, are personifications of wisdom (prajna) and Mercy (Karuna) respectively".7

"The Karanda-Vyuha explains that Avalokiteswara is so called, because he regards with compassion all beings suffering from the evils of existence".8 He is also regarded as an emanation of that Buddha. As a bodhisattva, Avalokitesvara is the personification of Mercy".9

"Moreover, the Bodhisattva was thought of as a spirit not only of compassion but also of suffering. In more than one source we read the vow or resolve of the Bodhisattva, which is sometimes expressed in almost Christian terms, says Basham.

`I take upon myself... the deeds of all beings, I take their suffering upon me .................... I must bear the burden of all beings, for I have vowed to save all things living..... I think not of my own salvation, but strive to bestow on all beings the royalty of supreme wisdom. So I take upon myself all the sorrows of all beings. I resolve to bear every torment in every purgatory of the universe. For it is better that I alone suffer than the multitude of living beings. I give myself in exchange........ I agree to suffer as a ransom for all beings, for the sake of all beings......."10

In Jataka mala, nature of bodhisattva is described as follows.

"By the merit of my charitable deed, May I become the guide and saviour of the world, which is lost in the wilderness of mundane existence. I wish to accomplish the good of other".11

Concept of Saranagamana that is taking refuge in the Buddha, the doctrine of the Bodhisattvas12 plays an important role in Mahayana Buddhism.

Also, concept of Papa-desana that is confession of sins and taking refuge in the Bodhisattvas for protection and help13 plays a vital role in Mahayana Buddhism.

"The Bodhisattvas according to the Mahasamgika sect are supermundane, their birth or body is not a result of sexual intercourse and hence they do not pass through the four embryonic stages of the human beings".14

The supernatural birth of Bodhisattva and being an emanation of Buddha hints some similarity between Bodhisattva and Christ. Following statement of Basham is to be keenly observed here.

"The idea of suffering saviour may have existed in some form in the Middle East before Christianity, but features like this are not attested in Buddhism until after the beginning of Christian era. The suffering Bodhisattva so closely resembles the Christian conception of the God who gives his life as a ransom for many that we cannot dismiss the possibility that the doctrine was borrowed by Buddhism from Christianity...."15

"We have seen in the beginning, how in a philosophy like Buddhism, which denied the existence of an Isvara as the creator of the world, the notion of a super human saviour developed, how the concept of Buddha evolved from that of a human bieng to that of a man-God, how in Buddhism in a few centuries we see the full gamut of emotions and attitudes involved in bhakti, and how, instead of a mere worship of relics and symbols, the image worship of Buddha was seen in a full-fledged form. The notion of Buddha as a supernatureal person and all these new tendencies were justified by certain philosophical changes in Buddhism during these centuries especially by the concept of trikaya"16

Hence, the doctrine of 'Trikaya' of Buddha is also to be analysed here.

"The Great Vehicle was not content with creating the pantheon of noble and beneficient Bodhisattvas. Probably developing from the old heresy of the Mahasanghika school (P.263) the idea arose that Gautama Buddha had not been a mere man, but the earthly expression of a mighty spiritual being. This being has three bodies; a body of essence (Dharmakaya), a Body of bliss (Sambhogakaya), and a created Body (Nirmanakaya) and of these only the last was seen on earth. The Body of essence eternally penetrates and permeates the universe; it is the ultimate Buddha, of which the other two bodies are emanations.................................................... The created Body was a mere emanation of the Body of Bliss. This reminds us of the docetic heresy in Chrisitanity, and it is possible that docetism and the doctrine of the Three Bodies owe much to a common gnostic source in the middle east".17

"The Buddha's Body of Bliss is the presiding deity of the most important Mahayana heaven, Sukhavati, the "Happy Land !................. this divine Buddha is usually called Amitabha (immeasurable Glory) or Amitayas (Immeasurable Age)....... All are emanations of the primal Body of essence, which is no other than the Brahman, the world soul or absolute of the Upanishads, in different guise.18

"B.L. Suzuki compares the idea of trikaya to the philosophy of trinity in Chrisitianity. The dharmakaya thus corresponds to Godhead in Chrisitiantiy the source of all, realized only through mystical experiences. This being becomes God as usually know to all as Sambhogakaya. But ordinary people need something more tangible and require a living personality-hence nirmanakaya. In other words, the three Kayas stand for Godhead, God and Christ or she says, we might compare the dharmakaya to parabrahma, Sambhogakaya to Isvara and nirmanakaya to the avataras".19

Following statement of Bahadur Mal is to be keenly observed.

Buddha is the avatar of Dhyani Buddha that is Amitabh Buddha (eternal light) who rules the whole universe. In order to redeem the human beings apart from giving up his heavenly abode(kingdom) and pleasure also he has given us many vows. Amongst those vows, he says, I sacrifice myself for the redemption of human beings. I will set a kingdom of happiness and holiness for the happiness of the saved souls.20

Doctrine of the avatar of Adi Buddha for the redemption of human beings was emerged related to the doctrine of Christianity.21

Buddha taking an avatar for the redemption of human beings resembles the following verses of Father and Christ.

'For God did not send His son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved'.22

'For God so loved the world, that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life'.23

Buddha taking an avatar for the redemption of human beings for preparing a kingdom of pleasure and happiness is similar to the following verse of Christ.

"In my Father's house are many mansions; If it were not so, I would have told you, I go to prepare a place for you".24

The Mahayana Buddhist literature are in Sanskrit and the period of Sanskrit is post-Christian era. Eventhough Ashoka's inscriptions are in Pali, Greek, Aramaic etc., none of them are in Sanskrit and the occurrence of Sanskrit inscription is from 2nd c.A.D. alone. Hence, the period of Sanskrit literature are after 2nd c.A.D.

Doctrine of trinity, avatar, sacrifice, confession of sin, redemption through the grace of God are the basic doctrines of Mahayana Buddhism which are totally contradictory to Hinayana Buddhism.

History of religions reveals that these doctrines are of Christianity. And because of the influence of Christianity Mahayana Buddhism developed in the post -Christian era. Hence, Father, Holy Spirit and Son in Christianity is described in Mahayana Buddhist Sanskrit literature which developed in the post - Christian era as Trikayas and son of God concept is explained in the Bodhisattva concept.

Eventhough many Bodhisattvas are mentioned, it should be noted that Bodhisattvas are the personification of the virtues of Buddha and it is the manifestation of Adibuddha. The supernatural birth of Bodhisattva is also to be noted here. Sicne it is the personification of the Son of God concept, suffering and sacrificing for the redemption of human beings became the basic concept of Bodhisattva.

Brahman in Saivism and Vaishnavism:

The term 'Brahman' denotes various meanings in various religions. It refers to Universal spirit, atman, one of the devas etc.,

In Saivism and Vaishnavism it refers to the Son of God. According to Saivism and Vaishnavism, Brahman is the son of Vishnu who is the left half of Siva.

Just like the suffering Bodhisattva in Mahayana Buddhism, 'Brahman' is also described as a suffering Brahman for the sake of human beings in Saivism. Following song from Devaram, the Saivite literature explains the nature of Brahman.

'Aviyaai Aviyumaagi Arukkamaaip perukkamaagi
Paaviyar paavam theerkum paramanoi brahmanaagi'

which means, Paraman, the Supreme God became a Brahman and sacrificed himself in order to redeem the sinners from their sin.

Since Brahman sacrificed himself to redeem the sinners, the sacrifice of the Son of God is described in Saiva Siddhanta as follows (though it doesn't mention any particular name).

'Kandaththaik kondu karumam mudiththavar'26

says that God became man and sacrificed himself to redeem the sinners.

The period of Saivite literature is after 5th c.A.D. Doctrine of Trinity, Avatar, fulfillment of sacrifice, confession, redemption through the grace of God are the basic doctrines of Saivism. Hence, these doctrines are of Christianity, the Saivite literature which belong to the post-Christian era, have these concepts of Early Indian Christianity, since Saivism and Vaishnavism are offshoot of Early Indian Christianity.27 Son of God is explained in Saivism in the name of Brahman apart from other names.

Brahman in Brahma Sutra :

In Brahma Sutra the concept of 'Brahman' refers to both Supreme God who is formless and the God who is with form.

'Yoni' 28 (He is the creator of the world)
'Pathi' 29 (He is the Lord)
'Aroopi' 30 (He is formless)
'Sarva Katham'31 (He is Omnipresent)

Brahman is also referred to as the one who resides in our heart.

'Antaryami yathithai vaathishu'32

Apart from these, Brahman is descirbed as 'Roopa Upanyaasaath'33 which means one who is with form. Also he is referred to as a life.

'It is Brahman who is the life'34.

The term 'Jyothi'35 refers to God.

He is also known as `Akshara' (letter or word).36

The term 'Sathya'37 refers to Brahman, who is the Truth.

'Sathya Brahman' is also knwon as 'Ahar' or 'Aham', says Sankaracharya.38

The term 'Ahar' is correlated with sacrifice.39

Since the term Brahman refers to God who has form and who is the truth, light, life, and the word and who is the sacrifice, it resembles the son of God concept of Christianity.

Following verses which resemble the above ideology are to be keenly observed here.

'I am the light of the world'.40

'I am the way, the Truth and the life'.41

As Christ is correlated with sacrifice, Sathya Brahman is also correlated with sacrifice.

Since Brahma Sutra is written in Sanskrit in the post-Christian era, history of religions reveals that Son of God of Christianity is described in Brahma Sutra as Brahman.

Thus, Early Indian Christianity gave rise to Mahayana Buddhism from Buddhism and Six-fold religion from ancient Dravidian worship. Following chart shows the description of Trinity concept in these religions.


Christianity Father Holy Spirit Son
Mahayana Buddhism Dharmakaya Sambhoga Kaya Nirmana Kaya 
Saivism Appan Ammai Makan
Vaishnavism Siva Vishnu Brahma


1. Susmita Pande, Birth of Bhakti in Indian religions and art, Books and Books publishers and distributors, New Delhi, F.Ed. 1982, P.73.
2. A.L. Basham, The wonder that was India, Rupa & Co., 22nd ed., 1994, P.277.
3. Hermann Von Glasenapp, Buddhism-A Non Theistic Religion, P.77, quoted by Susmita Pande, Op.Cit., P.75
4. Saddharma Pundarika 89.11; 90.2; 229.11 Quoted by Har Dayal, The Bodhisattva Doctrine in Buddhist Sanskrit literature', Motilal Banarsidass, Reprint 1978, P.34.
5. Ibid, P.76.
6. Har Dayal, Op.Cit., P.4
7. Ibid, P.36.
8. Ibid, P.47.
9. Ibid, P.48.
10. Vajradhraja Sutra Quoted in Santideva's Siksasamuccaya, tr. Bendall and Rouse, P.2569, Quoted by A.L. Basham, Op.Cit., P.278.
11. Jataka Mala 4.24; 11.2; 204.3 Nagananda iv, 26(p.77), Quoted ny Har Dayal, Op.Cit., P.180.
12. Susmita pande, Op.Cit., P.78.
13. Ibid.
14. Mahavasta, Vol.I, p.198, Quoted by Susmita Pande, Op.Cit., P.74.
15. A.L. Basham, Op.Cit., P.278.
16. Susmita Pande, Op.Cit., P.84.
17. A.L. Basham, Op.Cit., P.279.
18. Ibid.
19. B.L. Suzuki, 'Mahayana Buddhism-A Brief Outline', Pp.47-49, Quoted by Susmita Pande, Op.Cit., Pp.87-88.
20. Bahadul Mal, The Religion of the Buddha, Vishveshvaranand Vedic Research Institute, Hoshiarpur (India), First Edition 1958, P.207.
21. Geoffrey Parrinder, Avatar and Incarnation, Oxford University Press, New York, F.P.1970, P.117.
22. John, 3:17.
23. John, 3:16.
24. John, 14:2.
25. Thirunavukkarasar Devaram - Song. No.320.
26. Thiruvunthiyar - 3.
27. M. Deivanayagam, Comparative Study of Bible, Thirukkural and Saiva Siddhanta Sastras, (in Tamil) International Institute of Tamil Studies, Chennai-113 , Reprinted 1997.
28. Brahma Sutra 1.4.27.
29. Brahma Sutra 1.3.43.
30. Brahma Sutra 1.3.14.
31. Brahma Sutra 3.2.37.
32. Brahma Sutra 1.2.18.
33. Brahma Sutra 1.2.23.
34. Brahma Sutra 1.1.23.
35. Brahma Sutra 1.1.24, 1.3.40.
36. Brahma Sutra 1.3.10.
37. Brahma Sutra 3.3.37.
38. Sankara; Brahma Sutras, Tr.Vireswaranda Swamy, Pp.332-33.
39. Monier Monier Williams, A Sanskrit English Dictionary.
40. John 9:15.
41. John 14:6.

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Dr. M. Deivanayagam
Dr. D. Devakala

The Revival Movement of Dravidian Religion