A Bridging Spirit: Dreaming a Taoist Jesus

A Bridging Spirit: Dreaming a Taoist Jesus June 8, 2024

Nestorian Cross
from the Nestorian Stele
Tang dynasty

I’m deeply interested in religious syncretisms. Possibly my favorite is the Luminous Religion, a Nestorian mission to China which flourished between the seventh and tenth centuries. Next to nothing was known about this mission beyond the so-called Nestorian Stele, which spoke of a missionary bishop named Aluoben and his mission’s welcome. That is until the Taoist monk Wang Yuanlu’s famous discovery of the cave library at Dunhuang in 1900.

Among the astonishing cache were a handful of texts. What they reveal is a religion that had drifted considerably from what we might think of as Christian.

But actually here, I’m finding myself thinking of those various attempts at seeing the commonalities among religions.

I’m especially fascinated by parallel texts of teachings. What might be the place where these syncretisms can begin. What caught me for this reflection was my recent revisit to Holmes Welch’s history Parting of the Way: Lao Tzu and the Taoist Movement.

This doesn’t have anything to do with the Luminous Religion per se. At least not on the face of it, although perhaps at a bit deeper level it feels to me like Welch was reaching for that bridging spirit. We can see this especially when on pages 5-6 he offered some parallel sayings from the Tao Te Ching & the Christian Gospels. 

The translations of the Tao Te Ching are from Lin Yutang and Arthur Waley. For the Bible he preferred the King James version.

It is easy to note there are some stretches here. Still. There is something compelling in his project, even if it is simply reveals the longing heart; that reach for a commonality of spirit, which can reconcile everyone on this sad and lovely planet.

Frankly, I loved it, for its audacity, for its simplicity, and most of all for what it hints at. Certainly it touches my dream religion, that Luminous Religion…

Well, that’s what I think. Here, you can decide for yourself:

Do good to that which hate you (Luke 6:27)
Requite hatred with virtue (chapter 63)

Resist not evil (Mat 5:39)
It is because the (sage) does not contend that no one in the world can contend against him (chapter 22)

They that take the sword shall perish with the sword (Mat 26:52)
The violent man shall die a violent death (chapter 42)

Except ye become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven (Mat 18:3)
In controlling your vital force to achieve gentleness, can you become like the newborn child? (chapter 10)

Behold the Lamb of God which beareth the sin of the world (John 1:29)
Who bears himself the sins of the world is the king of the world (chapter 78)

If anyone would be first, he must be last of all (Mk 9:35)
The sage puts himself last and finds himself in the foremost place (chapter 7)

For whomsoever will save his life shall lose it. (Mat 16:25)
He who aims at life achieves death (Chapter 50 Waley trs)

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth… where thieves break through and steal (Mat 6:19)
When gold and jade fill your hall, you will not be able to keep them safe (chapter 9)

For what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? (Mat 16:26)
One’s own self or material goods, which has more worth? (chapter 44)

Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased (Mat 23:12)
He who is to be laid low must first be exalted to power (chapter 36)

The parable of the lost sheep (Mat 18:12)
Did (the ancients) not say, ‘to search for the guilty ones and pardon them?’ (chapter 62)

Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not neither do they spin (Mat 6:28)
(Tao) clothes and feeds the myriad things (chapter 34)

(A sparrow) shall not fall on the ground without your Father (Mat 10:29)
Heaven’s net is broad and wide, with big meshes, yet letting nothing slip through (chapter 73)

Ask and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find (Mat 7:7)
Work it and more comes out… draw upon it as you will, it never runs dry (chapter 5 & 6 Waley trs)

My yoke is easy and my burden is light (Mat 11:30)
My teachings are very easy to understand and very easy to practice (chapter 70)

Words from the ancestors of our common inheritance.

Maybe even wisdom to live by…

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