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Zoroastrianism in ancient China


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#1 Pattie

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Posted 05 December 2007 - 03:42 PM

The following post came through one of the mailing lists Iím on regarding the deity Mithra. (I am sharing it here with the authorís permission.) The author, Matthew, is asking about the spread of Mithraism and whether or not the religion made landfall in Japan.

Surprised at the notion, I did a search on CHF and wasnít surprised that what threads did mention Mithra (and there werenít many) were dealing with the possibility of Jesus having preached in Tibet and the chestnuts of Jesus cum Mithra (And as we approach that magic time of year for them both to be born, fellow Mithraists are gritting their teeth for the annual comparisons by newbies. Did you know that Mithra had twelve followers... :o lol) That aside, I understand that Vedic Mitra could have reached as far as Japan, but I canít see the Roman Mithra having extended much further than the Imperium Romanum.

My interest in Mithra is centered on Roman Britain and my knowledge toward the East, as I have come to appreciate, is seriously lacking.

I contacted Matthew, offering to post a thread and see if we hit upon anything.

Have at it!

*********************************************


I have checked through the posts and I do not see any references
to evidence that Roman Mithraism reached Japan or China. I've been
following this list for over a year or so...did I miss it? The forum
discussion mentioned Roman coins in China and I found something about
lost Roman soldiers of Crassus, but no archeological evidence of the
Mithras cult in China or Japan. The Mithraic group in Japan
( Pattie here...inserting linkage... http://home2.highway..._of_Mithra.html and http://homepage2.nif...n_Theology.html and finally http://home2.highway...at/magimenu.htm ) seems to
be a synthesis of Persian and Roman Mithraism and Buddhism, but do
not give any concrete information to support their claim that
Mithras reached Japan. There are references to "Miroku", the
Japanese name for Maitreya, (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maitreya )
but this doesn't really have anything to
do with Roman or Persian Mithraism.
Maitreya has similar characteristics to Mitra etymologically,
but developed separately from the Mithra of Persia and Mithras of
Rome as specific to Buddhism. The similarities in characteristics is
interesting though.
"Vairocana" is the Solar Buddha and the wiki article says that
the word does have its origin in Sanskrit from the Rig Veda itself
and "has the connotation to mean a brilliant, luminous sun". In
Japanese, Vairocana is called "Dainichi". "Dai" meaning "great"
and "nichi" meaning "day" or "sun". Actually, "taiyo" means sun but
it depends on the kanji used and in this case the combination of
characters for "Dainichi" apparently means "great sun". Dainichi is
the Buddha venerated by the Shingon sect which was founded by a
Japanese monk in the 9th century who learned tantric teachings in
Tibet and brought it back to Japan. So, no Roman or Persian Mithraic
connection there. The Solar Buddha of Tibet was probably derived
from India (since Bon was originally the native religion of Tibet,
not Buddhism), but it would have been a school that developed from
Sankrit origin and not Avestan.
The Japanese Mithraic group claims that Mithraism came over to
Japan from China via Korea, through "Shugendo". Ironically, I have
some knowledge of Shugendo and it is a slim possibility because the
Shugenja were wandering practitioners that in the beginning picked up
whatever religious influences were around like: Taoism, Buddhism, and
Shinto. But, Shugendo began in Japan as syncretism of all the
religious elements present at the time, not Korea or China. I admit
though that I have never seen any traces of Roman or Persian
Mithraism in Shugendo in my experience, though they do have esoteric
practices which are still secret. Unfortunately, as I understand it,
the Shugenja were forced to integrate into the Buddhist sects of
Shingon and Tendai by the warlords who wanted to keep an eye on them,
which altered the original form of "wandering monks" and perhaps lost
its Mithraic elements, if there were any. It appears to me that this
Japanese group most likely equates Mithra and Maitreya and claims
that Mithraism entered Japan that way.
I would like to believe that Roman or Persian Mithraism reached
Japan but I don't see it so far. If it did reach the east, then it
would likely be in India or the Himalayan region from ancient Persian
influences. Manichaeism reached China, but so far I have not seen
anything to support that Mithraism did. I think that it would be
more likely that Mitra began as the Kshtrya Ishta-Deva which
developed into two branches of Sankrit and Avestan schools that kept
developing independently of each other, which is how we probably have
Mithra, Vairocana and Maitreya.
It is also interesting to note that there is a Greco-Buddhist
body of artwork that was around at the same time as the Persian and
Roman Mithraic cults, but Buddhism operated independently. The
largest icons of the solar Buddha Vairocana were destroyed by muslims
in Afghanistan in 2001, not long before we overthrew the Taliban
(http://en.wikipedia....dhas_of_Bamiyan). What a
coincidence. It makes me wonder what else has been
destroyed...perhaps the Mithraic links that I'm looking for...

Of course, if anyone knows something of a real link of Mithraism in
China or Japan, then please let me know.
Thanks for reading this mini-novel! =D

******************************************************

I promised to forward anything of note to Matthew, so please keep in mind that I will be cutting and pasting to him, though not the Mithra list in general. If you feel strongly about me sharing, you have but to say as much and he's outta luck. ;)

Thanks, from us both.
Cheers,
 

Pattie


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#2 kaiselin

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Posted 05 December 2007 - 04:51 PM

Why would anyone mind?
This forum is open to public view. Anyone could cut and paste info off it if they found what they want.

I see this as a legitimate question regarding Mithra.

I myself know little about the religion except as you pointed out, the parallels between Jesus and Mithra are so close that the names are virtually inter exchangeable.
And that between the two religions, Mithra gave early Christianity a run for the money.

I also know that both were also almost interchangeable with the worship of Dionysus.

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#3 TMPikachu

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Posted 06 December 2007 - 10:32 AM

I thought christianity was based off of Mithra? That many of the stories were adoptions from that religion
"the way has more than one name, and wise men have more than one method. Knowledge is such that it may suit all countries, so that all creatures may be saved..."

#4 Z0r0@strian

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Posted 08 January 2008 - 08:02 PM

Zoroastrianism, an ancient religion propegated by the Achaemenid Persian Empire made its way to China in the few hundred years into the Common Era. Is anyone familiar with Zoroastrian influence reaching China before this time, namely pre Common Era? I would greatly appreciate anyones imput in the matter. Yours Sincerely, Z0r0@strian.

Edited by Z0r0@strian, 08 January 2008 - 08:17 PM.


#5 Pattie

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Posted 08 January 2008 - 09:42 PM

Salve Z0r0@strian,

I'm sorry to say that the likelihood of you receiving a reply is slim. I recently asked a similar question with no luck.

I'll cross my fingers for a better outcome this time. ^__~ Welcome to the forum.
Cheers,
 

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#6 Intranetusa

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Posted 08 January 2008 - 10:33 PM

Wow, interesting question. I did a quick google search and this is what I found:
There was actually a Zoroastrian temple built in the Tang capital of Xi'an/Chang-an.

http://www.thenagain...China/Tang.html

The T'ang Dynasty
618-907

Reign of T'ai-tsung: 627-649

* 621: First Zoroastrian temple built is Ch'ang-an
* 630: Defeat of Eastern Turks
* 635: First Nestorian Christian missionary arrives in Ch'ang-an

Reign of Empress Wu: 609-705

* 694: Manicheism comes to China
* 656: Defeat of Western Turks

Reign of Hsuan-tsung: 713-755

* The height of T'ang art
* 751: Battle of Talas: Chinese defeated by Arabs--The farthest westward advance of the Chinese Empire. As a result of this battle, Paper making spreads to the Abbasid Empire
* 755-763: Rebellion of An Lu-shan
* 763: Tibetans raid the capital of Ch'ang-an
* 780: Tax Reform: the equal field system is abandoned.
* 821: Peace Between China and Tibet
* 839: The official texts of the Confucian classics is engraved on stones.
* 840: Uighur empire defeated
* 841-845: Religious Persecutions
o Manicheism, Nestorianism and Zoroastrianism are driven out
o Buddhism is attacked: wealth of monasteries confiscated, shrines are closed.
* 879: Looting of Canton
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The Flying Spaghetti Monster, our Lord and Savior and the One True God... (courtesy of Pattie :D)

#7 snowybeagle

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Posted 09 January 2008 - 01:01 AM

I think Yun posted some stuff about Zoroastrianism and Manichaenism quite some time ago. Try using the search function.

#8 Z0r0@strian

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Posted 11 January 2008 - 03:11 AM

Wow, interesting question. I did a quick google search and this is what I found:
There was actually a Zoroastrian temple built in the Tang capital of Xi'an/Chang-an.

http://www.thenagain...China/Tang.html

The T'ang Dynasty
618-907

Reign of T'ai-tsung: 627-649

* 621: First Zoroastrian temple built is Ch'ang-an
* 630: Defeat of Eastern Turks
* 635: First Nestorian Christian missionary arrives in Ch'ang-an

Reign of Empress Wu: 609-705

* 694: Manicheism comes to China
* 656: Defeat of Western Turks

Reign of Hsuan-tsung: 713-755

* The height of T'ang art
* 751: Battle of Talas: Chinese defeated by Arabs--The farthest westward advance of the Chinese Empire. As a result of this battle, Paper making spreads to the Abbasid Empire
* 755-763: Rebellion of An Lu-shan
* 763: Tibetans raid the capital of Ch'ang-an
* 780: Tax Reform: the equal field system is abandoned.
* 821: Peace Between China and Tibet
* 839: The official texts of the Confucian classics is engraved on stones.
* 840: Uighur empire defeated
* 841-845: Religious Persecutions
o Manicheism, Nestorianism and Zoroastrianism are driven out
o Buddhism is attacked: wealth of monasteries confiscated, shrines are closed.
* 879: Looting of Canton


Thankyou for your effort in researching my question! You have come up essentially with what I found out about the matter. Another point of interest which did not appear in your list was the spread of Zoroastrianism into China through the silk road by a nation known as the "Sogdians." They were a culture centered around Samarkhand as their capital and were quiet cosmopolitan in culture and religion but ultimately Zoroastrian. But it seems all "incursions" of the Zoroastrian faith into China were somewhat localized and that Sogdians bringing the religion into China predominantly overtime intergrated...religious persecution etc as you noted obviously would have helped in that regard!

Maybe someone will find out something we have missed about Zoroastrianism spreading into China from as early a time as the existence Achaemenid empire.
Thankyou and regards,

Zoroastrian

#9 Frank H

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Posted 16 January 2008 - 12:40 AM

Zoroastrianism, an ancient religion propegated by the Achaemenid Persian Empire made its way to China in the few hundred years into the Common Era. Is anyone familiar with Zoroastrian influence reaching China before this time, namely pre Common Era? I would greatly appreciate anyones imput in the matter. Yours Sincerely, Z0r0@strian.


Hi. I'm sure there's lots of information on this. But its not all collected in one book and there's room for lots of research if one desires so. Try this book Religions of the Silk Road by Richard C Foltz.

#10 Pattie

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Posted 02 June 2008 - 08:45 AM

An amazing web site: http://museums.ncl.a.../ThisWaySub.htm

This was posted to one of the Mithra lists (regarding His birth) and I've spent far too long looking at the rest of the site. :P
Cheers,
 

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#11 shunyadragon

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Posted 01 October 2008 - 08:57 PM

Why would anyone mind?
This forum is open to public view. Anyone could cut and paste info off it if they found what they want.

I see this as a legitimate question regarding Mithra.

I myself know little about the religion except as you pointed out, the parallels between Jesus and Mithra are so close that the names are virtually inter exchangeable.
And that between the two religions, Mithra gave early Christianity a run for the money.

I also know that both were also almost interchangeable with the worship of Dionysus.


Rome tended to absorb and assimilate religions and religious beliefs. Mithraism was a Roman secret society consisting of Roman Centurians (Military officers), and apparently paralleled the time of the beginning and rise of Christianity. When Rome officially adopted Christianity and made it Roman, most if not all the Roman Centurians became Christians. The doctrines and beliefs of Mithraism is vague and not well documented. There is a lack of good records for both Mithraism and Christianity in the first century. They both shared traditional Roman beliefs and myths with Mithraism believing in a Persian/Roman tradition, and Christianity identified itself more with Judaism. The Zoroastrians shared their heritage with the Jews when they were in Babylonian exile, and Zoroastrian prophesy illuded to the coming of a Mithrite Messiah at the time of Christ. The Wise men were Zoroastrian priest following Zoroastrian astrological prophesy for the coming of their hope for a Messiah.

Chinese trade on the Jade-Silk Road promoted some exchange of ideas and beliefs, but I do not think their is any significant influence of Mithraism.

Edited by shunyadragon, 01 October 2008 - 09:01 PM.

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#12 ndesi62

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Posted 20 October 2008 - 08:57 PM

There is no such thing as "Persian" Mithraism. That needs to be made clear before anything else.

Mitra (prnc. me-truh) in Sanskrit (and Ancient Persian) means oath; the most powerful of oaths, one you would make to your best friend on the battlefield before charging to your death. Any oath of equivalent sanctity and magnitude would be described by this word. Additonally, Mitrak (me-truck) means comarade, friend, or literally, "one who has made [an/the] oath." Personified, Mitra is the god of the oath, protector of promises in Indian and related religions. For many centuries, he was worshipped in Persia like any another god.

Eventually, however, a prophet named Zarathustra (Zoroaster) began preaching a new religion, a monotheistic one where Ahura Mazda is the lord of all that is good, as well as creator of the universe, and Angra Manyu is an evil figure born of the dark aspects of Ahura Mazda. Humans are faced with a choice between the two. They will be judged at the final battle between Ahura Mazda and Angra Manyu, in which Ahura Mazda is guaranteed to win.

Zoroaster's religion, alternately called Mazdaism (after Ahura Mazda) or Zoroastrianism, had a lot of interaction with ancient Judaism, and many key Mazdaist concepts were adopted by the Jewish people. These included the belief in a dualism between good and evil, as well as an Armagedon in which good will triumph. The biggest reason for this was that Zoroastrianism was the dominant, state religion of the Achamenid empire. This ancient Persian world power, under Emperor Darius the Great (Darayu), ended the Babylonian Captivity and allowed the Temple to be rebuilt.

Even after Zoroaster's revalations, the ancient traditions of the Vedas (rather, Avestas) weren't abandoned. Mitra was reinterpreted as a sort of angel, an envoy of Ahura Mazda, who guarded the sanctity of the oath, rewarded those who kept their word, and punished promise-breakers. To a Roman outsider looking in on this dual system of monotheistic God and paganistic quasi-god, Mitra would have seemed like a cult just waiting to happen. He was all about the oath, sanctity, the supremacy of a single promise over everything else. Soldiers who discovered Mitra were enamored by him. They swore oaths to the ancient god, and swore subsequent oaths of secrecy to each other. Thus, a military cult was born.

Keep in mind this in no way resembled the Persian worship of Mithra. He was treated like an angel of sorts, someone that should be respected, and from whose good grace they might benefit. It resembles the way a modern Christian views St. Peter, up at the pearly gates. In India, the average person believes 'mitra' is simply the Sanskrit word for friend. Mitra is still recognized and worshipped by some traditional, Vedic Hindus and to some extent by the Parsi's. The Parsi's are Zoroastrians who left Persia after it was conquered by Muslims. They came to India in search of religious freedom. Since they left, there are no more worshippers of Mitra in Iran. Some secret Zoroastrians are rumored to exist, but they only focus on worshipping Ahura Mazda.

While Zoroastrianism was very influential on Judaism, and later relgions like Christianity and Islam, Mithra was more a figure in Persia's local mythologies than a vital part of the religion. Outside of the urban centers of the Roman empire (and even there confined to the higher military ranks), Mithraism never was, is not, and never will be a major world religion. It didn't even come close to competing with Christianity. Besides the various pagan beliefs, the only organized religion to compete with Christianity was Manicheanism,

Long after Zoroaster, a prophet named Mani was born in what is now Iraq, but was then Persia. He introduced a new religion that drew heavily on Gnostic ideas, as well as Christian, Zoroastrian, Jewish, and Mandaean ideas. Mandaeaism is a still-practiced religion that places emphasis on Adam and on John the Baptist, with significant theological differences with other religions.

Both Mandaeism and Manichaeism (the religion of Mani) are forms of Gnosticism, an ancient pre-Christian dualistic religion that was significantly popular in the Ancient World. It was something of an umbrella term for all the dualistic schools of thought that contradicted any dogmas of a canonical religion. Manichaeism received support from some Persian Kings, and was able to spread all along the Silk Road to China, where adherents survived until the 1600's. With the exception of this, however, Gnostics were heavily prosecuted, especially by Christians and Zoroastrians. St. Augustine was a Manichaen convert to Christianity, and a notable critic of his birth religion. The last historically known Gnostics were in the culturally rich city of Alexandria, Egypt. Eventually, that city fell into decline, and so did the Gnostics.

I think I've now covered every religion of the Ancient World whose name begins with an 'M', since people seemed to be confusing a lot of these, in weird ways. Christianity was based on Mithra? Not likely. I encourage people to look this stuff up on Wikipedia, especially Gnosticism. Very interesting stuff.

Also, anyone that knows some or all of these topics in detail will realize I've heavily over simplified, and in some case just picked one of the many interpretations of a religious teaching or theories about a historical event. I apologize for that, especially if you belong to one of the religions and find my explanation offensive. I know I get furious sometimes at history textbooks for how they twist around my own religion and it's history, and I don't want anyone else to feel that way. Feel free to contact me if you would like to add, change, or remove something.

Last, I'd like to mention that I'm doing this all in one long shot, meaning I'm not doing any research or paying attention to writing style. So, things might be confusing. Spelling is a pretty tricky subject, since terms are being transliterated from their native languages anyway, and it's not something I worried to much about.

I really do encourage people to look this up themselves, since my words may be confusing, and since I know they don't represent the whole truth. THey don't even represent my whole version of the truth. This really is simplified. And you'll probably forget the names anyway if you don't read them elsewhere as well.

As a footnote, after scrolling down I realized I never mentioned Zoroastrianism in China. The view represented here is pretty accurate: Zoroastrianism did indeed reach China over the centuries, and temples were built. Many of the Zorastrians would have been foreign traders and merchants, though that many centuries ago Zoroastrians proselytized openly, so there are sure to have been some Chinese converts. SInce the turn of the millenium, however, the vast majority of Zoraoastrians have lived in India, in very tight-kit communities where only children who have two Zoroastrian parents are considered Zoroastrian. Some Zoraostrians have joined the larger Indian diaspora in going abroad, but most keep with the strict rules concerning who is a Zorastrian. I myself know several Parsis, but I've never heard of a Chinses Zoroastrian. If they exist, there's very few of them, probably less than 100.

#13 shunyadragon

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Posted 21 October 2008 - 09:37 PM

Good post!!

I agree that there was never a Persian Mithraism. My point is that the Romans tended to adopt, coopt, incorporate, and had an eclectic approach to mixing beliefs. Roman Mithraism is a result of this mix and match of beliefs including some Persian beliefs. There is evidence that Christianity was Romanized in a similar manner.
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#14 Freddy1

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Posted 24 October 2008 - 09:55 AM

....
While Zoroastrianism was very influential on Judaism, and later relgions like Christianity and Islam, ...

(respectfully)
I heard thers been some dispute with that claim. But I'm all ears if you can kindly provide some sources. I wouldnt mind using it for personal reference thats why I'm asking.

#15 shunyadragon

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Posted 27 October 2008 - 05:56 AM

(respectfully)
I heard thers been some dispute with that claim. But I'm all ears if you can kindly provide some sources. I wouldnt mind using it for personal reference thats why I'm asking.


It is considered controversial among many Christians, because traditional Christian and Jewish theology rests on the belief of the uniqueness and exclusiveness of the Jewish and Christian Revelation, but there are many sources available that describe the relationship between these three religions. First they share a common region and and many things in common such as roots of language. Second, the Jews were in exile in Babylonian exile, after which beliefs such as monotheism, and the rituals that parallel Judaism were likely adapted. Third, there is no known trace of the Torah or the OT before the Babylonian exile, except the laws and some of the scripture which is found in Babylonian and pre-Babylonian clay tablets.

You can Google 'Judaism Zoroastrian' and find a variety of sources. the following is one.

[cite=http://www.sullivan-county.com/news/mine/jud_zor.htm] Judaism and Zoroasrtianism are both revealed religions and share a great deal in common. God imparts his revelation and pronounces his commandments to Zoroaster on "the Mountain of the Two Holy Communing Ones"; in the other Yahweh holds a similar communion with Moses on Sinai. According to jewish encyclodedia.com the points of resemblance between Zoroastrianism and Judaism are many. In both faiths God is omniscient, omnipresent, and eternal, and creator of the universe. God operates through and governs the universe with the use of angels and archangels. This presents a parallel to Yahweh that is found in the Old Testament. The Zoroastrianism Spenta Mainyu is the Christian "Holy Spirit." [/cite]

Edited by shunyadragon, 27 October 2008 - 06:00 AM.

Frank

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化干戈为玉帛 Turn weapons into peace and friendship with gifts of jade-silk.

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