34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, ‘This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed 35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed—and a sword will pierce your own soul too.’
A hermit, who lived in the mountains not far away, noticing a glory about the castle and interpreting it as a good omen, came down to the palace and was shown the child. He predicted: "This prince, if he remains in the palace after his youth, will become a great King to rule the Four Seas. But if he forsakes the household life to embrace a religious life, he will become a Buddha and the world's Saviour."
The Buddha's Life
There have been many attempts to draw parallels between the lives of Jesus and the Buddha. In particular the narratives about the birth and early lives of these two figures have been compared. The argument essentially is that many of the elements found in the stories of the Buddha can also be seen in the much later figure of Jesus. The inference being that the Gospel authors borrowed the legends and incorporated them into their narratives. That being so it casts grave doubt on the reliability we can place on these documents as being at all historically accurate since they contain fabulous elements within them.
The problem with this approach is that it assumes that since the Buddha pre-dates the Messiah then so to do the legends and stories surrounding him. That, I think, is far from certain. The Gospel accounts of Matthew and Luke received pretty much their final form and were circulated within a century of the events they describe. The provenance of the Buddha legends is less clear and it has been suggested that some of them post-date Jesus thus demolishing the argument. All of this is well outside my range of expertise and I cannot comment intelligently about it. My purpose here is to focus on an obvious anti-parallel in the stories. The different approaches of Mary and King Suddhodana to the respective missions of their children. I do not intend this to be a negative reflection on Buddhism, the King did not become a Buddhist until much, much later, but a way of highlighting the radical demands which the Gospel makes upon our deepest and most fundamental feelings and relationships and the way that Mary displays to us the perfect Christian response to those demands.
In addition to the prophecy of Simeon our Lady had also heard that of the Archangel Gabriel concerning her Son-
31 And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. 33 He will reign over the house of Jacob for ever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.’
So both the King and the Nazarene maiden were presented with the prospect of a child who would or could be associated with royal glory and also with religious mission. The difference being that King Suddhodana had an either/or choice and the Blessed Virgin a both/and prospect. For Jesus to enter upon His royal throne He must first become a sign of contradiction and source of scandal and Mary herself would have to feel a sword piercing agony. This was not only implicit in the two prophecies which were spoken to her but was clearly explicit in the earlier words of Isaiah with which she would have been familiar.
2 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
3 He was despised and rejected by others;
a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity;
and as one from whom others hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him of no account.
So, what happened next? The King did his very best to shelter the young Siddhartha from contact with the world of suffering, old age and death. He surrounded him with beautiful, healthy people and gave him access to all kinds of pleasures and the training required to be a king and a warrior. It could be argued that our Lady did not have these options and simply lived as she had to live but that is not so. She, and the most chaste St Joseph, had choices to make and they made them with a view to fitting Jesus for His appointment with the Cross. St Matthew tells us that they were given great gifts by the Magi but is silent as to what the Holy Family did with them. Catholic tradition has it that the Virgin gave them away to the poor. in any event she could have claimed sanctuary from these wealthy travellers and doubtless they would have been glad to shelter and provide for the future King of the Jews. Instead she and the holy patriarch fled into exile in Egypt, to escape Herod, and lived the life of asylum seekers. If God wished our Lord to be raised into poverty and obscurity then Mary and Joseph would willingly do as He required. When the danger was over there is no suggestion that the Holy Family were materially obliged to return to the Holy Land. Faced with the horror that awaited both her and her Son Mary could have chosen the option of the prophet Jonah and fled still further afield hoping that God would relent and spare them the Passion, finding some other means to save the people of the world from the consequences of their own malevolent and malicious actions. She did not. She was faithful to her calling as Mother of the Redeemer.
One day the young Prince went for a walk alone in a garden and was resting under a jambu tree. Almost without realising it, the he drew his legs into meditation posture, his mind became stilled and free of worldly thoughts and he was filled with peace and serenity.
Life of Shakyamuni Buddha- Childhood
46 After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. 47 And all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers.
Again there are obvious contrasts to be seen in these youthful experiences of the two world teachers. The Buddha had this solitary experience despite his father's best efforts and it proceeds in an atmosphere of stillness and silence. Jesus was situated in the more raucous surrounding of the Temple. More pertinently, for my purposes, is what led up to this episode. Although it was neither engineered not desired by Mary and Joseph all that they had done prior to it led to its being possible. They brought Him up to celebrate the Passover in Jerusalem amid the thronging crowds and all that could be expected from such gatherings when they could, like King Suddhodana, have kept Him secluded and far from such scenes. And they were happy for Him to mix with other children and other families as we see from the manner in which they lost Him-
44 Assuming that he was in the group of travellers, they went a day’s journey. Then they started to look for him among their relatives and friends.
This was not carelessness on the part of the Virgin and her spouse. This was a willingness to give Jesus to His mission by granting Him the freedom to grow into it as the Spirit led Him.
Worried by this turn of events, the King's advisors suggested that a wife and children would help to turn the Prince's attention to worldly matters and so the search for a bride was begun
Life of Shakyamuni Buddha- Childhood
On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. 2 Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. 3 When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, ‘They have no wine.’ 4 And Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ 5 His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’
The King sought to deter Siddhartha from his religious mission by tying him into the world of ordinary royal ambitions through marriage and paternity. Our Lady on the occasion of another marriage by her prayers prompted to Jesus to finally embark upon that journey which would result in her agony and His Passion and Death. She showed that she valued marriage and that she wished that the happiness and joy of that couple should begin with the unblemished felicity of a happy wedding feast. And she showed too that she knew that that path was closed off to her Son so she played her part in encouraging Him to bless the one path by an action that would set Him of on a totally different one.
In the very differing figures of the Mother of the Lord and the Father of the Buddha we see rival motives at work. King Suddhodana had to choose between a natural ambition to have a son and then grandsons who would be great as he himself was great but only more so. And he understood happiness to consist in possessing an ever more abundant treasury of riches, material and emotional of the kind that he himself possessed. Against that he could only set a vague aspiration to better the whole world through the medium of a son who was a religious teacher but nothing more. I do not wish to be harsh about the King, no doubt he was a compassionate and kindly man but this compassion for him, as for most of us, was largely of an active kind so far as it concerned his family and of a passive one so far as it affected strangers. Mary, for her part, made her choice when she said "Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done to me according to thy word" When she accepted her Son as a gift from God she accepted too that her life and His were to be lived in accordance with the will and to achieve the purposes of the Divine Father.
If a contrast is to be made here between Christianity and Buddhism I think it is that which must exist between a religion of Revelation and one of self discovery and self improvement. Christians see a God who intervenes in human history and who prepares for each stage of Revelation concerning the truth about Himself through the previous stages. Our Lady chose and freely chose of her own free will to undertake her task of pointing herself towards the soul piercing sword and her Son towards the heart piercing lance of Calvary. But she did so in the context of her own Immaculate Conception and centuries of prophecy concerning the Messiah which she had the wisdom to understand in spiritual and not nationalist military ways. King Suddhodana and Shakyamuni Buddha had to find their way by trial and error. Christians believe in an actively compassionate and loving God who seeks to create and actively compassionate and loving People of God in His image and on that we are happy to stake our lives in both time and eternity.
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