Another perspective to the Jesus-lived-in-India controversy
Posted on August 26th, 2017

By Rohana R. Wasala

(The Island published in two installments an essay by Bhante S. Dhammika of Australia under the title ‘Did Jesus live in India?’ on Saturday 2nd  and Wednesday 6th January, 2016. He dismissed the idea as baseless fiction. Though his arguments were unconvincing to me, I felt his intentions were laudable. The following was written as a contribution to the general exchange of views that Bhante Dhammika’s article provoked. But the discussion was closed before my article got a chance to be published. The general tenor of Bhante Dhammika’s writings published in The Island since (i.e., over the past one and a half years) suggests that the subject cannot be considered as having been exhausted. Therefore I decided to get my response (completed January 21, 2016) made available to readers interested in this kind of thing, but sans the introductory paragraphs in which I summarized the debate up to that date. Better late than never as they say. What follows is that article):

Ideas similar to those taught in Buddhism, which predated Christianity at least by five centuries, are found in the Bible. Of course, this doesn’t by itself mean that Jesus borrowed these ideas from Buddhism, much less that he lived in India, unless it is supported by irrefutable evidence. Correspondences between the Bible and Buddhist texts have been noted by many local and foreign scholars. Sri Lankan Buddhist scholar and author Egerton C. Baptist’s well researched book ‘Nibbana or the Kingdom?’ (M.D. Gunasena, 1964) is a good book to read in this connection. But his authority might not appeal to all, for most people still succumb to the influence of biased Western conceptions of the Orient that Edward W. Said delineates as ‘orientalism’ in his 1978 book of the same name. All the same, the much more controversial theory that Jesus lived in India as a Buddhist monk originated among Western intellectuals.

A controversy which has continued to rage for nearly one and a half centuries cannot be expected to be settled conclusively just like that. We are yet to know for sure whether the extraordinary Jesus-lived-in-India hypothesis is pure fiction, proven fact, or a mixture of the two. However, no one can fail to see the significance as well as the sensitivity of the debate: The claim is that Jesus went to India as a young person, studied Buddhism there, returned to Palestine, survived the crucifixion, and went back again to live and die in India. It threatens seriously undermining the authenticity of the most fundamental belief on which Christianity is based.

Since Jesus lived some five hundred years after the Buddha, what he is claimed to have learned as Buddhist teachings was probably an adulterated form of the original doctrine that had been subjected to the influence of other religious ideologies. We are told that it was a Mahayana sect, which no doubt, had doctrinal premises and ritual practices (peripheral to the central Buddhist philosophy) that appealed to a person who came from a theistic background. Supporters of the Jesus-lived-in-India proposition point to numerous examples of Buddhist influence on the biblical scriptures. They argue that the universal message of love and goodness that is at the core of Christianity is anticipated in Buddhism, and must be due to the latter’s influence; it could not be a natural refinement of the primitive concept of the wrathful, vindictive deity of the Old Testament. But the proposition that Jesus survived his crucifixion and lived in India learning and practicing Buddhism contradicts the most basic article of faith in Christianity: Resurrection.

The powerful Western economic, political and cultural establishment that dominates the world today is primarily based on Christianity (with, of course, religion being always made subservient to politics). It is natural that devoted adherents of that religion would love to see the unorthodox theory (that Jesus lived at different times and finally died in Kashmir in India) debunked. To the believers, nothing can be more preposterous or outrageous even, than that idea. Their hostility to it is understandable. Christianity’s struggle down the ages to protect its central dogmas against the onslaught of rival religions and advancing scientific knowledge is well known. This struggle involved the Crusades, Inquisitions, blasphemy and apostasy laws, secret societies such as the Priory of Scion (from French  Prieuré de Sion) founded in 1099, and the more recent Vatican prelature known as the Opus Dei, etc. In some instances, the Christian church has applied force to overcome challenges, such as punishing dissent through blasphemy laws, excommunication, etc.; in some other cases, where further resistance to scientific ideas was found futile, it has peacefully acknowledged them as in the case of its accommodation of the theories of the Big Bang and biological evolution (which  are today generally accepted by scientists and scholars as proven scientific facts).

Theravada Buddhism, on its part, has tried to preserve its pristine purity through occasional Dhamma Sangayanas (Buddhist Councils in which senior monks well versed in the dhamma recite the voluminous scriptures of the Tri Pitaka or the Three Baskets); there is no need to resort to coercive tactics to prevent adulteration from extraneous ideologies. The Buddha advised the bhikkhus to be guided by the dhamma, which is not to be accepted on mere faith, but only after investigation; he wanted his disciples to question the truth of his own teachings with a free, open mind.

This vital dimension of free inquiry that distinguishes Buddhism is best known to Bhante S. Dhammika of Australia, the writer of the article titled ‘Did Jesus live in India?’. This is evident from his excellent 1987 booklet on Buddhism ‘Good Question, Good Answer’, currently available as a free ebook on the website. The catechismal tone of the article title, however, seems to suggest a certain browbeating of opposing views.  Whether Bhante Dhammika is right or wrong to completely repudiate the Jesus-lived-in India hypothesis, he is still an ordinary human being (a pratujjana) and hence not infallible. And he is not the sort of person likely to claim infallibility.



Bhante Shravasti Dhammika was born in 1951 in Australia to Christian parents. At the age of 18, he embraced Buddhism. He has spent most of his time in Sri Lanka and Singapore. From his personal website dhamma musings ( we learn that he has been a bhikkhu for 32 years and at present serves as advisor to the Buddha Dhamma Mandala Society of Singapore. He sounds comfortable being a Buddhist monk. He claims no special spiritual attainments, but is apparently contented with being what he is. He does not sound like a dissembler.

In his article, Bhante Dhammika tries to debunk much literature about the idea that Jesus lived in India, beginning with the book by French lawyer Louis Jacolliot entitled  La Bible dans l’Inde, Vie de Iezeus Christna (The Bible in India, or the Life of Jezeus Christna) published in 1869, and a plethora of other sources relating to the same theme. He does this in order to counter the Jesus-lived-in-India contention. A special target of Bhante’s attack is the Russian journalist Nicolas Notovitch, who claimed that he had found a Tibetan book in the Hemis Monastery in Ladakh, about Isa (Arabic form of the name Jesus) having been in India; but Notovitch was said to have later confessed that it was only a made-up story. So the book he published in French in 1894 was a hoax according to his critics. Bhante Dhammika says he himself stayed in this monastery in 1989, and that a senior monk there whom he consulted about the Jesus story scoffed at it. Though Bhante Dhammika says that this monastery was founded in 1672, it seems to be of greater antiquity. It had actually existed even before the 11th century according to the Wikipedia. So it is possible that the monastery was only re-established or renovated in 1672, not built in its entirety for the first time. (Information fed into the Wikipedia usually has a bias against the Jesus-lived-in-India theory being taken seriously for obvious reasons, though, as here, any information that assigns an earlier date to the building mentioned can be used to add more credence to the Jesus-lived-in-in-India story.)

Now, a conspicuous near omission from Bhante Dhammika’s bibliography of literary sources in this connection – found scattered in the body of the text of his article – is German theologian and scholarly researcher in religious history Holger Kersten. His book ‘Jesus Lived in India – His Unknown Life before and after the Crucifixion’ (sanGral Foundation, 1981, Penguin India 2001) is a result of many years of research, and is the most authentic work that I have ever read on this subject. True, Bhante Dhammika casually mentions this book, but misspells the first name of the author as ‘Halgen’. Though apparently it is an accidental oversight, yet it could be taken to betray his possible unfamiliarity with that important treatise dealing with the subject at hand in a painstaking scientific manner.  Unlike many other sources mentioned by him, Kersten’s book contains indisputable evidence that Jesus indeed lived in India. He argues convincingly that Notovitch was not fabricating a lie.

Kersten explains why Jesus’ true message derived from his Buddhist training was suppressed and misinterpreted by others after his death. He writes:

‘…what is today called Christianity is in any case is not so much the Word of Christ but something else: Paulinism – for the doctrine as we know it  rests in all its main points not on the message of Jesus, but on the totally different teaching of Paul. Modern Christianity only developed when Paulinism was promulgated as the state religion.’ (p.4)

(Paul the Apostle [c.5 – c.67], not one of the Twelve Apostles, was the one who preached that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, and that he was the Son of God; it was Paul who taught the first century Jewish and Roman audiences the Gospel of Christ. Paul in his writings carefully expurgated elements that betrayed signs of Indian influence, according to Kersten.)

Widely read as well as well travelled (in the countries that have a direct connection with the story – Israel, the Middle East. Afghanistan and India), theologian and historian Kersten draws upon his vast knowledge of Judeo-Christian religious traditions, history and culture supported by his in situ researches in the areas concerned. Holger Kersten’s book cannot be easily dismissed as a product of myth-making. Kersten’s extraordinary conclusions (namely, that Jesus in his youth travelled with a trade caravan along the Silk Route to India, studied Buddhism and adopted its principles, travelled back to Palestine and led a contemplative life as a Nazarene, preached an unorthodox doctrine that emphasized love and forgiveness, was persecuted, survived the crucifixion, returned to India, and eventually died there as an old man revered as a bodhisattva) needless to say, are extremely unsettling to conservative adherents of Christianity, as they undermine its most fundamental dogmas. Doctrinal borrowings from Indian religious traditions can be easily accounted for without having Jesus travel to India. Travelling religious scholars who came after Christ could have done what secular scholars did in the case of Indian knowledge in other fields such as science, astronomy, mathematics, etc. being taken to Europe; equally likely, Indians must have benefited through transfer of knowledge in the other direction. But the story of Jesus surviving his sacrificial death on the Cross in another way than it is depicted in the Bible is an entirely different matter.

A second book entitled The Original Jesus (1994) co-authored with parapsychologist Elmar R. Gruber substantiates his claim of considerable Buddhist influence on the life and teachings of Jesus. Of course, on my first reading of ‘Jesus lived in India’, I thought the story of the Turin Shroud (p.137-140) was the fly in the ointment, a weak point in his excellently built up argument, because by then I was familiar with media reports of the allegedly scientific debunking in 1988 by the Vatican of the theory that the Turin Shroud was the actual burial cloth of Jesus. However, Kersten claims in a third book written in 1998 titled ‘The Jesus Conspiracy: The Turin Shroud and the Truth about the Resurrection’ that the Vatican interfered in the Radiocarbon 14 dating of the Shroud in a conspiracy to conceal the truth from the world (reminiscent of something familiar in church history).

As a theologian and student of religious history, Kersten reminds us of the central truth of Christ’s message, explaining the true purpose of his work. He writes in the Foreword to his Jesus Lived in India:

 It has never been part of my purpose to undermine anyone’s outlook on Christianity, much less to leave any reader glumly surrounded by shards of shattered faith. It is simply a matter of the greatest importance today to find a way back again to the origins – to the universal and central truth of Christ’s message, which has been distorted almost beyond recognition by the profane ambitions of more or less secular institutions that have arrogated to themselves a religious authority ever since the early centuries of the so-called Christian Era.

It is difficult to assume that Bhante Dhammika has not come across Kersten’s book. In any case, his concern is to dismantle the Jesus-lived-in-India idea; according to him, it is pure fiction. Obviously, Kersten recognizes the many comparable ethical teachings found in Buddhism and Christianity. Though Bhante Dhammika implicitly includes Kersten also in the group of historicist fiction writers he has in mind in this case, he may agree with the latter’s opinion that:

‘Western man must now reorient himself in the most literal sense of the word – turn towards the eastern dawn. The Orient is the origin and source of our experience of the inner realm.’

Bhante S. Dhammika rejects the Jesus-lived-in-India theory propounded by religious historians including Holger Kersten; yet he could still be seen as one among those Westerners who are already embarked on that reorientation process. Bhante Dhammika knows that, in the final analysis, there is no point in endlessly arguing about such matters (which have no prospect of being settled for good – for example, where will be Christianity with its over two billion followers, if it is proved categorically that Christ did not die on the Cross, but physically survived the Crucifixion, and lived on earth for another so many years before he finally died a natural death?) As a compassionate bhikkhu, he is averse to hurting the feelings of devout Christians who see no need to question their faith, by encouraging the ultimately meaningless debate to go on.

In conclusion, may I add: From whichever side we look at it (i.e., supporting whichever side we believe is true), the Jesus-lived-in-India controversy finally boils down to a futile never ending contest based on the illusory notion of self between those who love to believe in a fiction and others who care for the truth to emerge at any cost. I think that Bhante Dhammika knows this, and strategically brushes it aside in order to focus on a better goal as a Buddhist monk, that of relieving suffering in the world through compassion and wisdom. However, to be in denial of the truth is not in the spirit of Buddhism. If there is such a denial of the truth in this case, what could be its motive? This is by no means an insignificant question at a time when the big superstition of theistic religion is rising only to die like poet Alfred Lord Tennyson’s twisted sea monster Kraken in his sonnet The Kraken” (1830).


4 Responses to “Another perspective to the Jesus-lived-in-India controversy”

  1. Christie Says:

    ….and Mohamad lived in India.

  2. AnuD Says:

    I did not read the whole article and carefully. Anyway, Lord buddha released Buddha’s first 60 arahants to go and spread the doctrine and asked them to not to go two in the same direction. So, one argument was long before Jesus was born, some Arhants monk would have reached Greece. That also would have helped the Roman King Menander – I (Milinda) to come to the India’s boarders and learn about buddhism.

  3. Vaisrawana Says:

    Christie, what is the use of taking it from the sublime to the ridiculous?

  4. Ratanapala Says:

    Dr Barbara Thiering who wrote the book – Jesus the Man, herself a scholar of Dead Sea Scrolls, hinted at debunking the theory that Jesus rose from the dead. Her interpretation was that Jesus did not die on the cross, but had been given a mild sedation to mimic death. He recovered from his ordeal on the cross and vanished never to be seen again fearing he might be caught and crucified for the second time. According to her, Jesus got on a boat with Mary Magdalene and sailed towards Italy and France and not towards India.

    This book talks of a secret society of monks the Essenes who lived in a place called Quamron at the time of Jesus, and Jesus became one of them intent on the over throw of the Romans who were occupying the “Holy Land”. The Essenes lived a celibate life part of the year and their wives were called ‘Virgins’ during that period. If by chance a woman conceived during this period and delivered a child – it was called a Virgin Birth!

    The book also talks of Joseph and Mary going to Egypt escape the wrath of Herod and lived for a time under a sect of monks called the Theraputae. The Buddhist influence is suspected as far as Egypt during this time.

    What good can we bring about by arguing things shrouded by the mist of time – just conjecture- never to be known for ‘good’!

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