This is an ancient legend*: long ago, Buddha Avalokiteśvara ( Sanskrit: अवलोकितेश्वर), descended onto Earth and disguised himself as a beautiful prostitute. She accepted all her customers, and after euphoric sexes all men had their lusts dampened and hearts calmed. Many years later this prostitute died and because of her poverty and low social status she was buried roadside in a desolated grave. Until one day a monk came by. He respectfully bowed towards the dead and placed offerings on the grave. People saw it, puzzled, and asked, “Don’t you know what kind of sinner lies inside?” The monk replied, “You fools! You have no knowledge that it was Buddha himself! He saw how sinful men all are, and in order to save men, he transformed into a prostitute. If you don’t believe me, you can open the grave yourself.” People opened the coffin. They were amazed to see a cloud of smoke arise into the heaven like a floating lotus blossom with a figure on top, and what remained inside was nothing but a large pile of gold bullion. With this wealth they built up a temple to worship this all compassionate Buddha.
I find this story fascinating because it challenges us to reevaluate our moral compass: what is good and what is sinful?
In Bible there is also a prostitute story. (Luke 7:37–50) It goes like this: Jesus was invited by a Pharisee to his house along with many other guests. Seeing Jesus reclining, a prostitute came. She kissed his feet, cleaned them with her tears, wiped them dry through her hair, and anointed them with oil and perfume. As the Pharisee saw this, he said, “How can this be the Prophet?” Jesus asked, “Suppose you have two debtors: one owned you 500 and the other 50. If they cannot repay and you forgive them both, which of the two should love you more?” “The one with 500, of course, because he owed me more,” answered Pharisee without hesitation. “Then I forgive the woman, because she loved me more. Look, I am in your house but you didn’t give me anything, and this woman on the contrary cared for me. Her many sins have been forgiven — as her great love has shown. Whoever has been forgiven little, loves little.” Hearing this, other guests all wondered who this Prophet was. So Jesus said to the prostitute, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”
From Eastern and Western philosophical traditions, these two ancient stories at core have many parallels. First, the characters are a man, a woman, a priest and some observers like us. Secondly, there is an experience — or sexual acts, if one so interpret will — between the man and the woman. Thirdly, there is a reference to money, but in the end the stories are not about money. Lastly, they both carry the message for a faith, which is based upon love, compassion and benevolence.
However, the two stories are from two opposite perspectives. The Buddha story is from a feminine perspective. God personally descended to Earth. With a priori knowledge that all men are lustful in money and sex, God dressed up as a women to overcome their bodily weaknesses. Through believing in such a men-loving Buddha, all men will find their way to Wisdom. The Judaeo-Christian story, however, is from a male perspective. God sent Jesus down to earth as a man. Instead of a priori knowledge, he experienced an encounter with a lustful woman in house from a Pharisee. His Godliness was manifested through the a posteriori forgiveness. Thus by believing in such a sin-forgiving Prophet, all men will find salvation in God.
What is fascinating in the Bible story is the setting. Unlike the Buddha story, which took place along an open street, the Bible story took place in the house of a Pharisee. Similar to a monk, a Pharisee is a spiritual leader, but in a Jewish setting. As mentioned in the New Testament of the Bible, they were a subset of the Jewish priests who believed in strictly obeying the laws of Judaism. In a non-Jewish setting, the word Pharisee refers to a person who is distinguished by strict observance of the traditional and written law, and commonly held to have pretensions to superior sanctity.** The kind of person such as Inspector Javert in Victor Hugo’s novel Les Miserables. In other words, a Pharisee is a hypocrite. That certainly explains why a prostitute would be in his house in the first place, similar to the kind of victims Jeffrey Epstein kept in his cavernous mansion to seduce and corrupt his guests.
But is this woman really a prostitute? The official definition for prostitution is the business or practice of engaging in sexual activity in exchange for payment. In the Buddha story, it’s obvious Buddha didn’t prostitute for money. On the contrary, he left all the money in the coffin for people to build temples for worship. In the Bible story, there was a talk about money, but the intention of Jesus was to make the hypocrite understand the value of love against the background of his indifference, and there was no evidence that the woman was after the money. Both stories seem to imply a very sad reality, which is, the godless people seem to have no way of understanding value other than using money terms.
This brings us back to the very beginning, in Genesis, when there was no money, when a man and a woman could simply live happily in paradise — God, Adam, Eve and a lush garden with rich fruitful trees. Adam and Eve had the whole garden of fruits to nourish on except from one single tree. That is the tree of Wisdom, also known as the tree of Life, whose fruits God forbade them to eat. God told them, if they ate, they would know of good and evil and would therefore die. As the story goes, A serpent told Eve that was not true, Eve picked an apple, she gave it to Adam, Adam accepted it and ate it. With this experience they both became aware that they were all but naked.
Then came the famous inquisition from our Jewish God, “Who told you that you were naked?” The answers which we got from Adam and Eve, “the woman, who you placed with me, gave me the fruit” and “The serpent beguiled me, and I ate”, both seem so coward against God’s wreath and the decision to chase them out of Paradise. What if Eve replied, “Do not question me so, for I am the God from the East who metamorphosed as a woman. Can’t you see the true me?! If not, how can you be the true God?!” In other words, #metoo is godly.
Further on, it is incredibly interesting that, in the Bible, it says God drove out the man; and at the east of the garden of Eden he placed cherubim, and a flaming sword which turned every day, to guard the way to the tree of life. (Genesis 2:10)Why exactly at the East? What kind of danger from the East which would make our westen God so afraid? Why does mighty God need a Cherubim, one of the unearthly beings from the Abrahamic religions, to guard him in the first place?
When we lift our heads up to meet God’s inquisition, and when allow our own naked ignorance, hypocrisy and coward to be exposed, there is no East-West, Men-Women divide. In spirit, we all strive towards a true faith, a faith with universal love, benevolence and compassion, and we all have to fight against a common Cherubim who blocks our way towards knowledge and wisdom.
*The first appearance of this story could be traced back to Nirvana Sutra, an aphorism in Indian literary tradition, of Mahayana Buddhism. Around 7th century, it was translated into Chinese and have since been widely accepted and revered. This Buddha’s Chinese name is GuanYin, 观音.
**Since I didn’t know what is a pharisee before, I googled the definition from: https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/pharisee,
https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pharisee, https://dictionary.cambridge.org/de/worterbuch/englisch/pharisee, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pharisees.