Previous William Thomas Sherman Info Page postings, quotes, observations, etc.
Did you know that among the very earliest, if not the actual first, references in Christian writings to Buddhism is found (again) in St. Clement of Alexandria (c.150-c.215)? The passage in question is contained in his Stromata, book 1, ch. 15:
"Some, too, of the Indians obey the precepts of Buddha; whom, on account of his extraordinary sanctity, they have raised to divine honours."
Yet perhaps even more fascinating is Clement's views on the impropriety, and in turn rejection, of desire and appetite, and that bears a remarkable similarity to Buddhist teaching; though presumably Clement himself was not aware of or made the connection to the latter. Once more he is worth quoting at length, with the following coming from The Stromata, book 6, ch. 9. Note, he uses "Gnostic" is a positive sense of referring to a person of wisdom and knowledge; as opposed to "gnostic" such as we associate with occultic "gnosticism" or "gnostic" heresy.:
"The Gnostic is such, that he is subject only to the affections that exist for the maintenance
of the body, such as hunger, thirst, and the like. But in the case of the Saviour, it were
ludicrous [to suppose] that the body, as a body, demanded the necessary aids in order to its
duration. For He ate, not for the sake of the body, which was kept together by a holy energy,
but in order that it might not enter into the minds of those who were with Him to entertain a
different opinion of Him; in like manner as certainly some afterwards supposed that He appeared
in a phantasmal shape. But He was entirely impassible; inaccessible to any movement of feeling --
either pleasure or pain. While the apostles, having most gnostically mastered, through the
Lord's teaching, anger and fear, and lust, were not liable even to such of the movements of
feeling, as seem good, courage, zeal, joy, desire, through a steady condition of mind, not
changing a whit; but ever continuing unvarying in a state of training after the resurrection of
"And should it be granted that the affections specified above, when produced rationally, are good, yet they are nevertheless inadmissible in the case of the perfect man, who is incapable of exercising courage: for neither does he meet what inspires fear, as he regards none of the things that occur in life as to be dreaded; nor can anything dislodge him from this— the love he has towards God. Nor does he need cheerfulness of mind; for he does not fall into pain, being persuaded that all things happen well. Nor is he angry; for there is nothing to move him to anger, seeing he ever loves God, and is entirely turned towards Him alone, and therefore hates none of God's creatures. No more does he envy; for nothing is wanting to him, that is requisite to assimilation, in order that he may be excellent and good. Nor does he consequently love any one with this common affection, but loves the Creator in the creatures. Nor, consequently, does he fall into any desire and eagerness; nor does he want, as far as respects his soul, anything appertaining to others, now that he associates through love with the Beloved One, to whom he is allied by free choice, and by the habit which results from training, approaches closer to Him, and is blessed through the abundance of good things.
"So that on these accounts he is compelled to become like his Teacher in impassibility. For the Word of God is intellectual, according as the image of mind is seen in man alone. Thus also the good man is godlike in form and semblance as respects his soul. And, on the other hand, God is like man. For the distinctive form of each one is the mind by which we are characterized. Consequently, also, those who sin against man are unholy and impious. For it were ridiculous to say that the gnostic and perfect man must not eradicate anger and courage, inasmuch as without these he will not struggle against circumstances, or abide what is terrible. But if we take from him desire, he will be quite overwhelmed by troubles, and therefore depart from this life very basely. Unless possessed of it, as some suppose, he will not conceive a desire for what is like the excellent and the good. If, then, all alliance with what is good is accompanied with desire, how, it is said, does he remain impassible who desires what is excellent?
"But these people know not, as appears, the divinity of love. For love is not desire on the part of him who loves; but is a relation of affection, restoring the Gnostic to the unity of the faith—independent of time and place. But he who by love is already in the midst of that in which he is destined to be, and has anticipated hope by knowledge, does not desire anything, having, as far as possible, the very thing desired. Accordingly, as to be expected, he continues in the exercise of gnostic love, in the one unvarying state.
"Nor will he, therefore, eagerly desire to be assimilated to what is beautiful, possessing, as he does, beauty by love. What more need of courage and of desire to him, who has obtained the affinity to the impassible God which arises from love, and by love has enrolled himself among the friends of God?
"We must therefore rescue the gnostic and perfect man from all passion of the soul. For knowledge (gnosis) produces practice, and practice habit or disposition; and such a state as this produces impassibility, not moderation of passion. And the complete eradication of desire reaps as its fruit impassibility. But the Gnostic does not share either in those affections that are commonly celebrated as good, that is, the good things of the affections which are allied to the passions: such, I mean, as gladness, which is allied to pleasure; and dejection, for this is conjoined with pain; and caution, for it is subject to fear. Nor yet does he share in high spirit, for it takes its place alongside of wrath; although some say that these are no longer evil, but already good. For it is impossible that he who has been once made perfect by love, and feasts eternally and insatiably on the boundless joy of contemplation, should delight in small and grovelling things. For what rational cause remains any more to the man who has gained 'the light inaccessible,' [1 Timothy 6:16] for revering to the good things of the world? Although not yet true as to time and place, yet by that gnostic love through which the inheritance and perfect restitution follow, the giver of the reward makes good by deeds what the Gnostic, by gnostic choice, had grasped by anticipation through love.
"For by going away to the Lord, for the love he bears Him, though his tabernacle be visible on earth, he does not withdraw himself from life. For that is not permitted to him. But he has withdrawn his soul from the passions. For that is granted to him. And on the other hand he lives, having put to death his lusts, and no longer makes use of the body, but allows it the use of necessaries, that he may not give cause for dissolution.
"How, then, has he any more need of fortitude, who is not in the midst of dangers, being not present, but already wholly with the object of love? And what necessity for self-restraint to him who has not need of it? For to have such desires, as require self-restraint in order to their control, is characteristic of one who is not yet pure, but subject to passion. Now, fortitude is assumed by reason of fear and cowardice. For it were no longer seemly that the friend of God, whom 'God has fore-ordained before the foundation of the world' [Ephesians 1:4-5] to be enrolled in the highest 'adoption,' should fall into pleasures or fears, and be occupied in the repression of the passions. For I venture to assert, that as he is predestinated through what he shall do, and what he shall obtain, so also has he predestinated himself by reason of what he knew and whom he loved; not having the future indistinct, as the multitude live, conjecturing it, but having grasped by gnostic faith what is hidden from others. And through love, the future is for him already present. For he has believed, through prophecy and the advent, on God who lies not. And what he believes he possesses, and keeps hold of the promise. And He who has promised is truth. And through the trustworthiness of Him who has promised, he has firmly laid hold of the end of the promise by knowledge. And he, who knows the sure comprehension of the future which there is in the circumstances, in which he is placed, by love goes to meet the future. So he, that is persuaded that he will obtain the things that are really good, will not pray to obtain what is here, but that he may always cling to the faith which hits the mark and succeeds. And besides, he will pray that as many as possible may become like him, to the glory of God, which is perfected through knowledge. For he who is made like the Saviour is also devoted to saving; performing unerringly the commandments as far as the human nature may admit of the image. And this is to worship God by deeds and knowledge of the true righteousness. The Lord will not wait for the voice of this man in prayer. 'Ask,' He says, 'and I will do it; think, and I will give.'
"For, in fine, it is impossible that the immutable should assume firmness and consistency in the mutable. But the ruling faculty being in perpetual change, and therefore unstable, the force of habit is not maintained. For how can he who is perpetually changed by external occurrences and accidents, ever possess habit and disposition, and in a word, grasp of scientific knowledge? Further, also, the philosophers regard the virtues as habits, dispositions, and sciences. And as knowledge (gnosis) is not born with men, but is acquired, and the acquiring of it in its elements demands application, and training, and progress; and then from incessant practice it passes into a habit; so, when perfected in the mystic habit, it abides, being infallible through love. For not only has he apprehended the first Cause, and the Cause produced by it, and is sure about them, possessing firmly firm and irrefragable and immoveable reasons; but also respecting what is good and what is evil, and respecting all production, and to speak comprehensively, respecting all about which the Lord has spoken, he has learned, from the truth itself, the most exact truth from the foundation of the world to the end. Not preferring to the truth itself what appears plausible, or, according to Hellenic reasoning, necessary; but what has been spoken by the Lord he accepts as clear and evident, though concealed from others; and he has already received the knowledge of all things. And the oracles we possess give their utterances respecting what exists, as it is; and respecting what is future, as it shall be; and respecting what is past, as it was.
"In scientific matters, as being alone possessed of scientific knowledge, he will hold the preeminence, and will discourse on the discussion respecting the good, ever intent on intellectual objects, tracing out his procedure in human affairs from the archetypes above; as navigators direct the ship according to the star; prepared to hold himself in readiness for every suitable action; accustomed to despise all difficulties and dangers when it is necessary to undergo them; never doing anything precipitate or incongruous either to himself or the common good; foreseeing; and inflexible by pleasures both of waking hours and of dreams. For, accustomed to spare living and frugality, he is moderate, active, and grave; requiring few necessaries for life; occupying himself with nothing superfluous. But desiring not even these things as chief, but by reason of fellowship in life, as necessary for his sojourn in life, as far as necessary."
As Cortes and Pizarro to the Aztecs and Inca, so (criminal) spirit people to Europe and America (most people are about that unprepared and that dumb with respect to the former.)
It came as news to me the other day that some church Fathers (such as St. Clement of Alexandria) interpreted Glaucon's depiction of the fate of the just man (as given in Plato's Republic, bk.2, c. 360 BC) to be an inspired prefiguration of Christ. The connection struck me as so intriguing, and laden as it is with possibly further meaningful implication, I thought I would reproduce the passage here for the benefit of others who might also find it of interest:
"...'Heavens! my dear Glaucon, I said, how energetically you polish them up for the decision, first one and then the other, as if they were two statues [i.e. the unjust man versus the just man.]'
"'I do my best,' he said. 'And now that we know what they are like there is no difficulty in tracing out the sort of life which awaits either of them. This I will proceed to describe; but as you may think the description a little too coarse, I ask you to suppose, Socrates, that the words which follow are not mine. --Let me put them into the mouths of the eulogists of injustice: They will tell you that the just man who is thought unjust will be scourged, racked, bound -- will have his eyes burnt out; and, at last, after suffering every kind of evil, he will be impaled: Then he will understand that he ought to seem only, and not to be, just; the words of Aeschylus may be more truly spoken of the unjust than of the just. For the unjust is pursuing a reality; he does not live with a view to appearances -- he wants to be really unjust and not to seem only:—
"'His mind has a soil deep and fertile,
Out of which spring his prudent counsels.
"'In the first place, he is thought just, and therefore bears rule in the city; he can marry whom he will, and give in marriage to whom he will; also he can trade and deal where he likes, and always to his own advantage, because he has no misgivings about injustice; and at every contest, whether in public or private, he gets the better of his antagonists, and gains at their expense, and is rich, and out of his gains he can benefit his friends, and harm his enemies; moreover, he can offer sacrifices, and dedicate gifts to the gods abundantly and magnificently, and can honour the gods or any man whom he wants to honour in a far better style than the just, and therefore he is likely to be dearer than they are to the gods. And thus, Socrates, gods and men are said to unite in making the life of the unjust better than the life of the just...'"
~ Translated by Benjamin Jowett.
["I Want You - Bob Dylan" -- orig. studio track]
["Bangles - I Want You (1986) PIttsburgh, PA"]
["Carry On Till Tomorrow - Badfinger - Magic Christian Music" -- b&w tv appearance of Badfinger lip syncing “Carry On, etc.”]
See also: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V2YKCCUeIeY
["Badfinger - Carry On Till Tomorrow" -- Opening to the film “Magic Christian” with the same song]