Sacred Texts  Earth Mysteries  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at

Pale Ink, by Henriette Mertz, [1953], at

p. 71


The Buddhists

Hwui SHAN identified himself as a mendicant Buddhist priest, who went to a far country to preach and spread his religious doctrine. He stated that five Buddhist priests, from Kabul, went out to this same country in 458 A.D., and took along with them their Buddhist books and images. Hwui Shan did not state whether he was one of the five or not. All we know is that five, or six, Buddhist priests spread their gospel somewhere.

Since these bhikshu were dedicated to missionary work, it would be reasonable to expect to find evidence of Buddhism in places where they are alleged to have spread it. If they spread it in Fu-sang, and Fu-sang were Mexico, we should find some tangible proof of it there. Do we find any? What must we look for? Before we start looking, we should know something about Buddha.

Gautama, the Buddha, the Wise One, founder of the Buddhist faith, was born in Nepal about 560 B.C., the son of Suddhodana, Prince of the Saka Clan. His mother, Maya, was said to have conceived him after a dream. Among Buddhists, he is called "Saka-muni," the holy man of the Sakas, rather than Buddha, as we know him.

When he was 29 years old, he left home and began a life of contemplation. He spent his first two weeks in meditation under the Bo-tree, a tree now sacred to the Buddhist. The third week of meditation was spent under a Muchalinda tree and it was during this period of time that Muchalinda, the Serpent-King, was said to have come forth and spread his hood as a canopy over the Buddha to protect him from the heat of the sun. The serpent thus became sacred. During his last week of contemplation, two merchants who were passing by, saw him and offered him a bowl of rice and milk, which he accepted. The bowl, in turn, became a sacred symbol.

A short period of doubt followed his first season of meditation, during the course of which Brahma is supposed to have appeared to him, telling him that he was destined to high office

p. 72

and that he should go out and preach. He hesitated, and Brahma is said to have told him that others could not obtain salvation if he did not go out—so Gautama agreed. He called five of his friends together and preached to them. They accepted the faith, were ordained, and thus formed the nucleus of the Buddhist order.

These five followers, in turn, were sent out to preach, with instructions to wander over the face of the earth and preach the doctrine, teaching men to order their lives with self-restraint, simplicity, and chastity. The Saka-muni himself spent 45 years traveling from place to place, preaching. Each of his followers was told to do likewise and, in due course, the number of converts multiplied and spread over a vast territory.

When the Buddha died, he passed through four "trances," and his death, like his birth, was accompanied by miraculous signs from heaven. On the seventh day after his death, his body was carried to a shrine east of the city and placed on a great funeral pyre of sweet-scented wood. The pyre is said to have ignited spontaneously and, after performing its work, just as miraculously extinguished itself.

Symbols sacred to the Saka-muni are: first, the Sun; second, the Tree; and third, the Serpent, who gave him protection from the heat of the sun during his time of contemplation. Buddhist doctrine teaches a life after death; that the earth will be destroyed five times, four of which have already taken place, the last time being by flood; retirement into monasteries and nunneries for a life of prayer; a personal life marked by the doing of good deeds; and a missionary program to spread the faith.

If we look to Mexico for Buddhist traces, we should necessarily confine ourselves to something that would appropriately fit into the religious form, both in character of the people, their belief, their symbolism, their religious rites, their language, or in details of everyday life. Since, as Hwui Shan stated, the priests taught the people their religion—and the people learned.

The Sun, the Tree and the Serpent, being the three most sacred symbols of the Buddhist, would spear-head the list of items to look for in Mexico. Are they there? They are. All three

p. 73

suddenly appear in the south of Mexico, in the late fifth century, in sculptured objects. Not one at a time, nor faltering attempts striving to achieve one form or the other, but all three in full bloom. Stone carvings at Palenque are the best examples of early intertwined trees. The Sun symbol, like the serpent, forms the basis of practically all decorative art, stylized or natural, from one end of Mexico to the other. No one knows why. Squier recognized the similarity back in 1851, in his book "Symbolism of the Serpent," and devoted an extensive amount of space to comparisons of the Mexican with the Buddhist.

Comparative photographs of Buddhist art and Mexican art are shown in the Selected Papers of the XXIX International Congress of Americanists published by the University of Chicago Press, 1951, and in American Antiquity, Vol. XVIII, No. 3, Part 2, January, 1953. The same thing was done by Gustav d’Eichthal in his comparison of the Buddhist and Mexican in 1865.

In religious belief, both the Buddhist Saka-muni and the Azteca Huitzilopochtli, were miraculously conceived. Both religious orders maintained monasteries and nunneries as sanctuaries for retirement to a life of meditation; both had idols that they worshipped placed in niches in the walls of their sacred buildings; both had stories of the destruction of the world by flood. Sixteenth century Spanish accounts record these matters on behalf of the Mexican.

The Buddha's contemplation of death and the symbolic use of the skull, in art forms, is well recognized in Tibet, Java, or Angkor—and duplicated a dozen times over in the collection of the Museo Nacional. in Mexico City.

Carved statuary of the sixth century was brought to this country for exhibition purposes, by the Japanese government, and was shown in the National Gallery, in Washington, 1953, adjoining the permanent collection of Mexican jade. The heads and head-dresses of three of the Japanese Buddhist gods, on display, were so identical with the early jade pieces from Mexico, glass-cased not 20 feet away, that if the jade were placed

p. 74

in the Japanese collection, based on art form, one would not be distinguishable from the other in type or age.

Sculptured doorways, at Angkor, having a serpent's head as a decorative motif, with opened mouth used as the door entrance, is duplicated in the Temple at Chichen. The lion throne, from Buddhist Java, is identical to one found in Yucatan—examples are inexhaustible.

In a paper published in American Antiquity, January, 1953, Gordon Ekholm of the American Museum of Natural History, pointed out the close similarity of the lotus motif used in Buddhist and Mayan carvings—the Mayan date he placed as being about the beginning of the Christian era from 100 A.D. to 600 A.D. He states: "Perhaps among the most significant parallels between Hindu-Buddhist and late Classic and post-Classic Maya art are those we can classify under the heading of lotus panels. . .. For the Maya we will refer to carvings occurring at Chichen Itza and Palenque. The lotus motifs at these two sites are remarkably similar although the more elaborate and more Asiatic-like panels are at Chichen. For Asia I refer to the tradition of the use of the lotus in design which appears first in Bharhut but has its earliest full occurrence at Sanci and Amaravati in the second century A.D., but continued in use for many centuries in India and was carried to Cambodia, Indonesia and China or wherever Hindu-Buddhist influence was important."

The article pointed out five specific details of which only two will be listed here:

"1. A principle feature of the lotus panels in Buddhist art is that the rhizome of the lotus plant forms a sinuous pattern along the length of the design area, curving back and forth across the width of the panel and leaving spaces which are filled with leaves, buds and flowers. The same pattern is followed in the lower temple reliefs at Chichen Itza. The undulating path of the rhizome of the plant is not a natural feature of either the Asiatic lotus or the American water-lily."

"3. Fish are seen eating lotus flowers at the ends of one of the Chichen panels. The placement of the fish is identical to

p. 75

that of the makaras or fish-like monsters in the lotus panels at Amaravati."

The rhizome is described as the root-like stalk of the lotus plant growing under water from which the leaves grow. It is never visible but is deeply buried in the mud.

Highly symbolical and stylized art forms do not arise in two unrelated places, separated by thousands of miles, without some pretty solid reason behind it.

Designs used by the Huichol Indian of the west coast of Mexico, shown and described by Karl Lumholtz, adopting the Sun motif, are stylized duplicates of sun-forms found in Buddhist temples in Cambodia and Angkor. Huichol is one of the very ancient cultures and one which resisted Spanish infiltration longest. If their early culture felt the impact of Buddhist teaching, then we could expect to find something there in as unadulterated a form as anywhere else.

Karl Lumholtz, the ethnologist, studied the Huichol Indian in 1901, and it is from him that we learn much of what we know. He found that the Mexicans called the people "Huicholes" which they said was a corruption of the tribal name VIRA-RIKA, or VISA-LIKA. According to the Indians, their name meant "Prophets" or "Healers." They were known among their neighboring tribes as religious healers. In their ceremonials, they used a bowl, which on one face had a disc of the setting sun, called Sakai-Moka—on the reverse side was a large land serpent called Hulia-Kami. Huichol tradition referred to a deluge. Some Huicholes bore such strong resemblance to the Chinese that the Mexicans called them "Chinos." In religious ceremonies, they used a wicker chair that was a counterpart of the round cane chair made by the Chinese.

Is it not interesting to note that Lumholtz found the bowl in association with the sun-disc—and called Sakai-Moka? The Holy man, the Saka-muni, was himself associated with the sun. And, on the reverse side a serpent called Hulia-Kami—a symbol of Quetzalcoatl—with a name not too far removed phonetically from Hwui Shan.

p. 76

Lumholtz found that the Huicholes bore such marked resemblance to the Chinese that they were called "Chinos." These people are religious healers and minister to their neighbors, the Coras. They live near the "smoking mountain to the south"—the Volcan de Colima. The religious nature of the Huichol, and their attendant religious ceremonies, have strong Buddhist characteristics. They, too, go out and "minister" to their neighbors. The Huichol make extensive use of the cane, or walking stick, normally having a carved serpent as its head—a typical article of personal effects of the mendicant Buddhist—a cane was his one possession.

The dance of the "Chinelos," the "foreigners," the "Chinese," a dance originating in the area around the State of Sinaloa, fascinates hundreds of American tourists that attend the annual summer dance fiestas. The history of the dance was lost in antiquity before the time of the Conquest. The "little, old, bearded white men" have danced their way around Mexico, with their canes, for more than a thousand years—a tradition that perpetuates itself. Dr. Redfield writes that: "The word 'Chinelos' is probably from 'Chino,' meaning 'Chinese' or 'foreign.' When used in speaking Nahuatl, it is Mexicanized as 'Zinelohque.' The 'Huehuenches' is also used, 'the old ones' (said with respect). It is said by some in Tepoztlan that the Chinelos represent the Pharisees who denied Christ'."

The origin of the dance in Sinaloa, its great antiquity, and the Nahuatl name "Zinelohque," all strangely point to a definite Chinese influence.

Brief mention was made of the stories of the "flood" told by the Indians to the Conquistadores. These stories, together with the religious beliefs held by the Indians, could only be inventions of the Devil, so reasoned the Spaniards. Could these things have originated with the peregrinating Buddhist priests?

According to the Bhagavat Purana, one of the most sacred books of the Buddhist, four ages, or cataclysms, are spoken of which, at different periods of time, destroyed man—earthquake, hurricane, fire and flood. The last destruction of man was by flood and the fifth cycle, in which we are now living, will be

p. 77

the last. The story of the four destructions and the last by flood, runs through all Buddhist theology and writings—the Matsya Purana, the Agni Purana, the Mahabharata and the very early, probably pre-Buddhist, Satapatha Brahmana.

Of the Mexican stories, perhaps the best to illustrate the point is the famous "Codex Vaticanus," in the Vatican Library, which consists of four symbolic pictures representing the four ages of man that had been destroyed. These symbolic pictures were found at the time of the Conquest and, at that time, were said to be ancient. Interpreted by a Dominican monk, at Cholula, they pictured the first age as one of giants who were destroyed by famine; the second age was destroyed by fire; the third was an age of monkeys destroyed by hurricane; and the fourth ended in deluge. The document explained that at the time of the great inundation, all mankind was changed to fish, with the exception of one man and his wife, who saved themselves by building a boat made from a cypress tree.

The legend of the Azteca was similar. According to their ancient tradition, men had lived and been destroyed four times. The last time all mankind was lost by drowning and were all changed into fish. In a single day, all was destroyed and even the mountains sank into the water. The water was calm for fifty-two years and, at the end of that time, a man and his wife emerged and hollowed out a cypress tree, entered it, closed the door, and when they opened it again, they saw fish swimming around. They took the fish inside with them and some they cooked for food while the remainder of the fish were turned into many other kinds of animals.

These stories may be considered crude and perhaps primitive—they were. Spaniards took them down from all sections of Mexico back in the sixteenth century. They were powerless to explain them—other than as an invention of the Devil himself. Considering the legends and recordings telling of the destruction of man on four occasions, the last by flood, in the Bhagavat Purana, and the Mexican counterpart in the Vatican Library, it must be apparent that either one was derived from the other or they both were derived from a common source.

p. 78

When we started out, we wanted to find art forms, symbolism and religious doctrine, that might be compared to, or derived from, the Buddhist, in Mexico—something that would date from the late fifth century. That which has been set down here is a relatively small sample. It is regretted that illustrations, either photographic or line drawing, are being omitted—the picture would demonstrate the point instantly.

Next: Chapter IX. A Matter of Words