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Monday, May 27, 2013

Book Review: "The Lost Sutras of Jesus"


Reigert, R. and Moore, T.
The Lost Sutras of Jesus: Unlocking the Ancient Wisdom of the Xian Monks.  Berkeley: Seastone, 2003.


I read this short book sporadically then had a conversation with colleague, whose comments in context with his personal background caused me to go back and read the book again. When describing this book to him, this wise man spoke of challenges faced by Chinese Christians to this day; that is, the assimilation of Buddhism with teachings of Christianity. This book described the source of the challenge that, in effect, is centuries old.

Moore and Reigery present the history, teachings and suggested meanings of a set of ancient Chinese scrolls containing spiritual teachings, a section of which is presently referred to as “The Jesus Sutras.” While this book would make it good “coffee table” read, some key elements are lost by it’s conciseness. For example, “sutra” is never defined so a good reader would be well served to find the Buddhistic application of the term. We get one hint: the weaving of Eastern truth into Christian parables (p. xi). The editors (self-admitting ecumenical students of world religion and “a lapsed Christian with a passion for biblical history”) simply propose to explain appealing set of writings.

The book divides its 140 pages into three sections: “Wisdom from a Cave” suggests the source of the scrolls, their influence, circumstance and discovery in five smaller chapters with an epilogue. “The Jesus Sutras” contain twelve chapters of selections from the scrolls, some of which are clearly identifiable the teaching of Jesus as if it were from the Gospels. “The Soul of the Scrolls” suggests wisdom for daily living in three chapters.

One point should be very clear: the Jesus of these teachings is not the Jesus of time, space or of faith. The author of these scrolls is said to believe that, “Mary was the mother of Jesus the man, not the god. They were captivated by the historical Jesus and treated his teachings like those of a sage” (p 13). The editors are clear that “something happened that transformed the monks and led them to ‘translate’ the documents . . . into a collection of ‘sutras’ that melded the teachings of Jesus with the beliefs of Buddha and Lao Tzu” (p. 14). The editors admit, “Jesus . . . becomes more a teacher of wisdom than the focus of rigid beliefs that centuries of arguments have made of him . . . a teacher of wisdom and compassion rather than a preacher concerned with sin and redemption” (p. 125). This Jesus of the Sutras has never existed except on paper and in mind.

The issues Chinese Christians face is very much our own and can be found at this point: what makes a person “Christian”? If being Christian means to accept a set of teachings, then Christ is not necessary thus removing the “Spirit” of spirituality and religion becomes self-serving (in all it’s selflessness) with no God in mind who can be pleased. The Jesus of the Sutras offers an empty solution: “We are always seeking and acting and because of this we create movement and desire, which cause unhappiness and make it difficult to attain Peace and Joy. Therefore I say we should live without desire and action” (p. 125). If one lives without desire, then how can one say he is happy or unhappy?

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