Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Holy Grail - What was it?

On a newsgroup, someone brought up the question of Wagner's interpretation of Christianity, a thing that much vexes Wagnerians because ... frankly ... it seems so smarmy ... and unchristian ... and because it's hard to enjoy Parsifal, his last drama, without dealing with it. (I love the opera myself.)

The guy who brought it up asked if it was true Wagner thought Christianity was NOT derived from Judaism at all -- I knew he was part of a very large group of European Christians in the late 19th and early 20th centuries who wished to believe this, but was unaware of their justifications for it. (I've seen Otter Zell's, which are quite bad enough, and have to do with Christ dying for our sins -- hardly a Jewish doctrine, now, is it?)

To this someone who knew a great deal more than I do on the matter responded by quoting letters from Wagner to Liszt that averred that Christianity was really an outgrowth of Buddhism, bypassing all Jewish connection (hard to fit the life of Jesus into that time line but ... whatever), and that the basic message of early Christianity (per Wagner) was renunciation of unnecessary experience (hard to fit that into Wagner's lifestyle ... but whatever) and ending the cycle of reincarnation. That certainly fits with Parsifal's heroine, Kundry, who besides being a figure from the medieval Parzival epic, is in the opera the Wandering Jewess, a reincarnation of Herodias, who in this version was cursed by laughing at Jesus as he carried the cross down the Via Dolorosa.

So I wondered if you had heard anything in any of your classes about the "influence" of Buddhist thought on early Christianity, through some spurious link (trade links undoubtedly existed) between the Middle East and India, and a possible visit of Jesus to India (en route from Glastonbury no doubt)?

Meanwhile, back at the Kaaba, still another mystic chimed in on the thread with word that the Holy Grail -- and I'd always heard that this was originally (paganly) a wish-granting Stone rather than an all-sustaining Chalice (outgrowth, that latter, of the Celtic mythic cauldron of the Dagda or whosever it was -- Lugh? Cerridwyn?) -- was originally a magical ithyphallic stone dropped from heaven upon the place beneath, the sort of thing (meteoric iron?) often worshipped by oriental peoples, notably the Heliogabalus stone in Aramaea and, of course, the Kaaba in Mecca (last survivor of these cults). Somehow the cultic, ethereally-derived sanctity of these stones got tied in with the Stone of Scone and the visit to Britain (with or without chalice) of Joseph of Arimathea. (Or his visit to the Priory of Sion, for that matter -- backdated.)

Is there a traceable line here, from cult A to cult B to cult C to the medieval epics (were they influenced by talk of the Kaaba? Were the Templars during their sojourn on the Mount? Were the crusaders who visited Spain and might there have been introduced to Islamic mysticism?) to Wagner's great game of symbolic musical chairs?

In Istanbul last October (I always re-set to Istanbul nowadays), in a little mosque that had once been a sixth-century Byzantine church (the oldest in town), the sexton (if that is the word, and it's not) proudly showed me little squares of black stone inset in the mihrab and above the portal: cut from the Kaaba in Mecca! he said. The only mosque in Istanbul with stone from the Kaaba! Fortunately the place had other charms. But a link -- a palpable link.


1 comment:

Gus said...

Fascinating stuff. I have studied Buddhism a fair amount and two thing off the top of my head make it seem remotely plausible. First, Jesus lived after the Buddha. Second, there does seem to have been communication back and forth, at least since Alexander. Having said that, I have never encountered anything suggesting meditation was at all important in the earliest Christian practice, and that was central not only to Buddhism but to the entire cultural context from which it emerged. Jesus did supposedly spend 40 days in the wilderness, but that is more like a big vision quest than a meditation practice that takes years of regular involvement to bear ultimate fruit. Renouncing the world seems a common motif in Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu monasticism. I think it is a logical outgrowth of any spiritual tradition that focuses on the transcendence of Spirit and/or on the world as a snare.

(I do strongly suspect that Aristotle's "contemplation" as the highest human good might refer to a kind of meditation for several reasons - but that's another issue.)

But I am at best a reasonably well informed outsider on these matters However, I will keep my eyes open.

Ditto regarding the Grail an the Kaaba. You know more about it than I, though I also think it was a meteorite - I think it is very interesting that it was Pagan before it was Muslim. Again, I'll keep my eyes open.
I think the Christianity/Buddhist connection was probably simply a way for anti-Semites to free themselves from what they regarded as an embarrassing heritage. This is especially true for those emphasizing that Jews were racially different and inferior to Aryans. Along with the meditation issue, there is the lack of creator God in Buddhism, no emphasis on the illusion of the ego in Christianity except in some of its later and most mystical forms, and no day of judgment nor much of an eschatological tradition i Buddhism. (Did I spell it right?) Please correct me if you think I have gotten any of this wrong.

What they do have in common is very interesting - both focus on the individual not the group, and I am inclined to think of forgiveness as analogous to non-attachment. I have also seen a small volume paralleling similarities between Jesus' words as they came down to us and those of the Buddha.
But - and here you probably know more than me - the Jewish mystical tradition seems quite capable of getting much of what is also in the Christian mystical tradition which in its nondual aspect resembles Eastern thought. My own belief is that there is likely a common experience interpreted through different cultural lenses.