Friday, May 22, 2009

The Parable of the Wicked Tenants

Here is another essay that has been causing me grief.
Jesus teaching with Parables consists of using the unknown with known, the strange with familiar.[1] The parable of the Wicked Husbandmen is unique among the parables of Jesus due to it essentially being an allegory. Here the vineyard is Israel, the landowner is God, the slaves are the prophets, the tenants are the religious leaders of the time, and the son is Jesus Christ. But this is really only half the story. It is the way that this allegory is used within a realistic context that makes it so powerful.

In Isaiah 5:7 the House of  Israel is represented as a vineyard. This use of Isaiah  shows the reference  to the vineyard and the owner are not to be understood as “earthly”, but representations of Israel and God.[2] All three synoptists use this allegory. Matthew and Mark add imagery from Isaiah 5:1-2: the setting of a hedge, the digging of a winepress, and the building of a tower. Luke omits this clear allusion to Isaiah, but his readers would still have understood the general reference of the vineyard.[3] The planting and care of a vineyard are signs of a prudent householder.[4]

At this time in Palestine and Galilee, many landowners were absentees.[5] This gives the parable a sense of reality, as there was unrest due to landlords living elsewhere[6] Luke adds to this “for a long time,” to emphasize the amount of responsibilty given to the tenants, to state they were trusted.[7] It is the owner’s absence rather than his departure that is illustrated in the parable. The God of Israel is being represented as an absentee landlord. [8] The absence represents the distance between God and the religious leaders of the time, due to their own withdrawal.[9] His absence is in actuality theirs. He had not forgotten them; he will send his slaves, and his only son.[10]

In Mark and Luke, the slaves are sent “in season”.  Due to the winepress being mentioned, this would be the time of winemaking, not the actual harvest as is stated in Matthew.[11] Either way the slaves are sent at appropriate times in history of salvation.[12] The sending of slaves refers to the sending of prophets.[13] The slaves are arranged and treated differently in each version. In Matthew, the slaves are sent in two groups; this may represent the former and latter prophets.[14] In Mark they are sent as individuals to portray the distinctive message of each prophet.[15] In Luke a single slave is sent each time, the violence each time escalating, climaxing in the killing of son.[16] Whether the next messengers are sent in the same season or the next is not stated, but the central point is that the trouble does not start straight away. Not only are the husbandmen given several opportunities to pay their rent, the message to do so is delivered in differing ways by different people.[17]

By using the same nomenclature as was used at both Jesus’ baptism and transfiguration, “beloved son” alludes to a christological interest.[18] The sending of the son is not only theological; it follows the logic of the story.[19] The owner expects his son will be well received. The arrival of son allows the tenants to think the owner has died.[20] Earlier it had been just slaves who had been sent who had no personal interest in estate. The one and only son is sharply contrasted with many slaves.

This is stated elsewhere in the New Testament:[21]
Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things.
Hebrews 1:1-2 (NRSV)

The owner represents God by showing mercy and being long suffering.[22] By pursuing the contractual arrangements to end, he shows Gods fidelity.[23]

In Matthew and Luke, the son is thrown outside, and then killed.[24] This is similar to the Passion story in Matthew, where Jesus is crucified outside the city.[25] This analogy is awkward, as the vineyard represents Israel, not Jerusalem.[26] In Mark, the body cast out unburied as a final insult.[27]


To understand parable it is essential that the owner is living away. By removing the sole heir, the tenants can take unhindered possession. The law states that under specific circumstances an inheritance may be regarded as ownerless property, which may be claimed by any one, with the proviso that the priority right belongs to the claimant who comes first. [28]

At this point in the parable, Jesus uses a quote from Psalm 118.  Jesus’ view of the Old Testament was very spiritual, he felt it transcended his own age. He would have seen in Psalm 118 not a direct reference to himself, but only “the statement of a principle applicable to himself.” [29]

Psalm 118 was one of the primitive church’s proof texts for the resurrection and exaltation of rejection of Christ.[30] The whole of psalm 118 is a vindication of Gods purpose. This final week of Jesus’ earthly ministry is to be seen in the light of Gods victory snatched from defeat, God’s selection of his own people, and the new Kingdom of God, in gathering of the elect into Father.

The cornerstone referred to is the head of the corner, the stone used in buildings corner to bear stress and weight of the two walls; it is crucial to whole structure. It is this elevation of rejected stone into its predestined place at the head of the corner in which the Psalmist see the hand of God.[31] 

This rejected stone will become a stumbling block, as stated in Isaiah:

He will become a sanctuary, a stone one strikes against; for both houses of Israel he will become a rock one stumbles over—a trap and a snare for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble; they shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.
Isaiah  8:14-15 NRSV
The stone of offence is God, a refuge and sanctuary to those who trust in Him, a snare to the faithless. This speaks of the refusal of Israel’s leaders to put their trust and confidence in God’s will.[32]
A chief cornerstone would not be likely to trip or fall on a person.[33] Christ will be a stumbling block for some, and they will suffer heavily for their shortsightedness.

In between the quote from Psalm 118, and the clear reference to Isaiah 8:14-15, Matthew adds the following:

Therefore I tell you,
the kingdom of God
will be taken away from you
and given to a people
that produces the fruits of the kingdom. 
Matthew 21:43 NRSV

In Matthew alone is the Vineyard referred to as the kingdom of God. [34] The kingdom is not only of future, the vineyard is underdeveloped, because it has been in possession of those who were unworthy. Vineyard in wrong hands will not bear fruit. No nation or people will have a permanent right to the vineyard.
Because the rulers will kill the Messiah, the vineyard, the Kingdom of God will be taken from them. It will be given to others.[35] The vineyard should be given to all, not one nation. [36] The “Israel of future” will be advanced to honour by the death of the only son. A judgement on Israel’s rulers is a conclusion that is impossible to resist, and also reflects tensions between Jew and Gentile.[37] Owner will come to sort it out.[38]

While the parable of the Wicked Husbandmen may be a very lofty allegory, it is its realism that makes it so tangible. It is a resemblance to a social reality. First, it has a strong resemblance to social reality. The fact that there was unrest in Palestine and Galilee due to landlords living elsewhere,[39] starts the parable off in a realist way. Another element Jesus audience would have understood was that the “payment in kind” which the tenants were to pay the landowner had led to many disputes with dishonest tenants who had leases.[40] None of this is really unusual for Jesus’ teaching; he was always vindicating the poor, the despised and alienated.  Here the tenants have opposed and rebelled against God. The rulers will be dispossessed. They will not only lose the blessing offered, but what they reject will actually cause their overthrow.


Albright, W.F.; Matthew (1986) Doubleday: New York

Allen, Willoughby C.; A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to St. Matthew (19??) Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark

Creed, J.M.; The Gospel according to St. Luke (1930) MacMillan: London

Dodd, C.H.; The Parables of the Kingdom (1961) Fontana: London

Dormanday, Richard; “Hebrews 1:1-2 and the parable of the wicked husbandmen” in The Expository Times (Vol 100. No. 10; July 1989) pp. 371-375

Fitzmyer, Joseph A.; Luke (1985) Doubleday: New York

Gould, Ezra P.; A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to St. Mark (1921) Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark

Inge, W.R.; The Gate of Life (1935) Longmans, Green and Co: London

Jeremias, Joachim; The Parables of Jesus (1963) SCM Press: London

McNeile, Alan Hugh; The Gospel According to St. Matthew (1957) MacMillan: London

Mann, C.S.; Mark (1986) Doubleday: New York

Oesterley, W.O.E.; The Gospel Parables in the Light of their Jewish Background (1936) SPCK: London

Plummer, Alfred; A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel according to St. Luke (19??) Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark

Swete, Henry Barclay; The Parables of the Kingdom (1920) MacMillan: London

Swete, Henry Barclay; The Gospel according to St. Mark (1909) MacMillan: London

Friday, May 15, 2009

Is Buddhism another form of Hinduism?

Is Buddhism another form of Hinduism? 

Buddhism in it’s purest form is in many ways the most minimalist of religions. Therevadan Buddhism has been called both the most and least mystical of all religions.  It has been regarded as both the most spiritual of religions, and not a religion at all.[1] In many ways, it is religion stripped to its bare essentials.[2] Hinduism has long been regarded as being syncrestic, and almost spongelike in its ability to absorb any form of belief [3], so it may be assumed that Therevadan Buddhism would be able to be regarded as another form of it. This observation is made even stronger when we look at both religions’ higher, mystical aspects, in particular, their views on the self, and time. It is however the opposing views on God, or a transcendent being that turn any such similarity into an uncrossable bridge. As Hindu mystic Kabir states:


“the difference among faiths is only one in names;

everywhere the yearning is for the same god”[4]


The difference between Hinduism and Therevadan Buddhism is that the latter does not yearn at all for such a being.


Indian religion has always been hospitable, absorbent and syncretistic. The  religious beliefs of different schools of Hindu thought vary, their practices differ greatly. Within Hinduism there can exist many  types of belief: monism, dualism, monotheism, polytheism, and pantheism.[5] However, within this there is one constant: a belief in a transcendent being, a God.


A Theravadan Buddhist does not believe in a creator or absolute being at all.[6] Therevadan Buddhism offers salvation that does not involve belief in God, or a belief in an afterlife. Buddha deliberately did not speak about a creator of world. Instead, he offered the concept of becoming an arhat, one who has achieved nirvana: absolute extinction of the mind and total cessation of all sorrow and suffering.[7] Within this is a blissful state, akin to “the extinction of a flame” there is no sorrow, yet no happiness.[8] Nirvana is contentless, it is not to be regarded as a creator, nor is it spoken of as an underlying reality. It is referred to as Uncreated, Unbegotten, Immortal.[9]


While Therevadan Buddhism contemplates that there is no simple pure substance which is permanent or has it’s own individual substantial existence, the great nothingness,[10] Hinduism thinks the basic substance of the universe is spirit. The reality behind all and every phenomenon is spirit: everything lives in spirit; it is the seed from which everything comes.[11] Ultimately, there is nothing in the universe that is not God.


The pertinent difference between Hinduism and Therevada Buddhism may be summed up in two quotes that concern the self’s relation to reality: “This is not I” and “thou art that”.


The Buddha would often state “This is not I” when referring to physical or conditioned reality, as opposed to dharma, absolute reality. By reaching nirvana, he has transcended the aeons, he is atemporal and timeless.

There is  neither past nor future, all times are present [12]

This is expressed differently in Hinduism. The fundamental Hindu assertion is “thou art that”: the atman,  the individual self of man, is identical with Brahman, the universal self.[13]  Within man dwells a greater self, the Atman. Man is the house of spirit. The soul of man is the same as God: immortal and unchanging, pure divine light. “The knowledge that Brahman and Atman are one and the same is true knowledge.”[14] Man does not see the world and himself as they truly are, he has been deceived by the appearance of the world, which conceals the true reality. The self that he thinks he knows is not the true self.[15] The man who has entered into this mystical state has  thrown off the  illusion of ego, and  realised his greater self.[16]                                                   


In reaction to this emphasis, the denial of atman is a central Buddhist doctrine.[17] The atman  is replaced by the anatman, or no-self.[18] While both regard the absolute extinction of the mind as central themes,[19] the main distinction is that within Hinduism, it is in reality more of a transformation or transmutation of self. This is regarded as deification, or union with God.[20] The self is completely absorbed into the divine, whereas in Therevada Buddhism the self is completely annihilated.


The  main concern of Therevadan Buddhism is  to find both the reason and remedy for one’s own suffering, which comes from being born. Man is bound without and within by the entanglement of his desires.[21] The object is to go from life as one knows it , samsara, to nirvana, life as it actually is.[22] Nirvana is an absolute reality, inconceivable to man in his present state. The finite mind of this state can never know the infinite of nirvana;[23] Nirvana simply is. It cannot be conceived, only experienced[24]. As in Hinduism, the difference  between this transcendent state and the mundane, between complete liberation and the ordinary is emphasised.[25]



Within Hinduism the true object of man is to be annihilated into the Spirit, to escape bonds of historical succession. The meaning of existence is not found in history, the whole goal of creation is found to exist outside history.[26]This deliverance is achieved by imitation of Brahman. As the  human condition is defined by opposites, liberation from the human condition is equivalent to a non conditioned state in which the opposites coincide. The enlightened Hindu remembers with horror the state and the world of ignorance where he was before.[27] For him who knows, time and timeless lose their tension as opposites. The manifest and unmanifest aspects of being are no longer distinct from  each other. [28] Within Brahman, emptiness and fullness are one.[29]


In both Therevadan Buddhist and Hindu mystical speculation, time is thought of as unlimited. However, the two regard this in differing ways. To the Therevadan Buddhist, one of the goals of life is to escape time. To do this, one needs to abolish the human conditions of desires and suffering by attaining nirvana. In Hinduism existence in time is ontologically a non existence, an  unreality.[30] The physical world is illusory because it lacks reality;  it lacks reality precisely because it is of limited duration.[31] It is the very fluidity of time that conceals the fact that it is unreal[32]


In both Therevadan Buddhism and Hinduism, there exists a realm that exists outside of time. [33] In Therevadan Buddhism this is thought of as being an eternal present; stasis; a non-duration.[34] The Hindu concept of Brahman as containing all polarities and opposites in one being explains this as time and eternity as being two aspects of the same principle.[35] In the Upanishads, Brahman is conceived of as both transcending time and as the source and foundation of all that manifests itself within time.[36]


While there is much that would suggest that Buddhism may in fact be another form of Buddhism, it is very difficult to conceive of a nontheistic faith as being another form within a family of faiths, that, while varied and comprehensive, are all theistic. It may best be illustrated by using the following quote by the Hindu mystic Dadu:


Who can know you, o invisible, unapproachable unfathomable? Dadu has no desire to know; he is satisfied to remain enraptured with all this beauty of yours, and to rejoice in it with you.[37]

A Therevadan Buddhist would not say such a thing. The very fact that it is addressed to a transcendent being, no matter how “invisible, unapproachable unfathomable”

The Hindu mystic Rajjab stated “The worship of different sects which are like so many small streams, move together to meet God, who is like the ocean.”[38] By using this thought, it is improbable that Buddhism could be another form of Hinduism. Indeed, it may even be a stream, yet not one drop of its water would know of the ocean’s existence.


Dasgupta, S.N.; Hindu Mysticism (1983) Motilal: Delhi 

Eliade, Mircea; Images and Symbols. Studies in Religious Symbolism (1961) Harvill Press: London

Happold, F.C.; Mysticism. A Study and an Anthology (1970) Penguin: Middlesex 

Hopkins, Jeffrey; Meditation on Emptiness (1983) Wisdom Publications: London 

Humphreys, Christmas; Buddhism (1958) Penguin: Middlesex 

Johnston, William; The Still Point (1982) Fordham University Press: New York 

Kakar, Sudhir; The Analyst and the Mystic (1991) Viking: New Delhi 

Katz, Steven T.(ed); Mysticism and Philosophical Analysis (1978) Sheldon Press: London 

Otto, Rudolf; Mysticism East and West (1960) MacMillan: New York 

Sen, K.M.; Hinduism (1978) Penguin: Middlesex 

Sinnett, A.P.; Esoteric Buddhism (1888) Chapham and Hall: London 

Sircar, Mahendranath; Hindu Mysticism According to the Upanishads (1974) Oriental Reprint: New Delhi 

Smart, Ninian; World Religions: A Dialogue (1960) Penguin: Middlesex