The Early Years of Jesus, When Known as Issa
The story of Issa (also spelled Isa or Isha) was recorded in ancient scrolls or manuscripts that revealed that Jesus of Nazareth was known as Issa when he spent years in India and Tibet until age twenty-nine, where he was both a student and teacher of Buddhist and Hindu scholars.
The story is highly controversial, because while many critics and skeptics claim it is merely a legend and not actually true, many other people have reported having seen or having spoken with people who had first hand knowledge of the ancient documents that tell the story of Issa.
Whether the story is true or not is not does not alter any of the the other articles about Jesus in the overall message on this site. However, it would explain the fact that the basic, core teachings of Jesus of Nazareth are very similar to the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha, as is explained in books like Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings, by Marcus Borg et al, and Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, by Thich Nhat Hanh, and in other books on the subject.
Furthermore, it would explain why Jesus spoke as a Hindu Avatar, speaking as, but for, the Ancient One, as Jesus did when he said "I am the way, the truth, and the Light," and "Before Abraham was, I am." And, after all, the name "Issa" is derived from the Sanskrit "Isa" or “Isha,”which means the Lord in the oldest language or the oldest religion, Hinduism. And it is no coincidence that the Arabic name Isa is used with reverence in the Qur’an of Islam to refer to Jesus of Nazareth.
Now, the story became known in the West in 1894 when Nicolas Notovitch published a book called The Unknown Life of Christ, and it became controversial because there were some things in the book that were questionable and improbable, and a bit that was implausible. Consequently, even though before long there was a lot of evidence revealed that the ancient scrolls about Issa do (or did) exist, critics disparaged and rejected Notovitch’s book as a hoax and cited it to claim that the story of Issa is mere legend. And they still do.
On the other hand, many people without any religious bias believe that even though Notovitch took some liberties and literary licence in writing his book, and did write some things that were inaccurate, it does not prove that Jesus did not travel to India and Tibet.
Now we’ll discuss the evidence on both sides of the argument in this article, and we’ll start with Nicolas Notovitch and those who support the story of Issa.
The Proponents and Supporters
Notovitch was a Russian aristocrat, journalist and explorer who journeyed extensively throughout Afghanistan, India, and Tibet. Notovitch said that he traveled to Ladakh in India, that he had stayed at the Himis (or Hemis) Buddhist Monastery in Leh, and that while he was there, he learned or ancient records of the life of Jesus of Nazareth and found a Tibetan translation of the legend. He said he then employed translators and copied the book or scroll known as "The Life of Saint Issa," and he renamed his translation, The Unknown Life of Christ.
Notovitch’s book was of course met with much resistance and controversy over the authenticity of the document, which will be discussed. But while the worst critics accused him of perpetrating a hoax and ridiculed him as a phony, many people were intrigued, and both critics and people seeking to validate the story investigated it.
Notovitch's work was first presented at an international forum in Chicago by Shri Virchand Gandhi, an important delegate to the First Parliament of the World's Religions. Shri Virchand Gandhi is credited for originally translating and publishing the same work in English in 1894 from an ancient manuscript found in Tibet.
In 1895 a Hindu Swami Trigunatitananda visited the Himis Monastery, confirmed that Notovitch had spent time there, and saw the Issa document. That is reported the biography “Swami Trigunatita: His Life and Works," by Marie L Burke.
Henrietta Merrick reported seeing the Issa document in 1921, and she later wrote in her book, In the World's Attic, "In the monastery in Himis in Leh is the legend of Jesus who is called Issa.”
In 1922 a Hindu Swami Abhedananda, who had doubted the story, went to the Himalayas determined to either find the Himis manuscript about Issa, or to expose Notivitch as a fraud. What he found was what Notovitch had found. Abhedananda’s book of travels, entitled Kashmir O Tibetti, tells that he did visit the Himis monastery and includes a Bengali translation of two hundred twenty-four verses which are essentially identical to the Notovitch translation. Abhedananda was thus convinced of the authenticity of the Issa story.
In 1925, a Russian philosopher, Theosophist and artist named Nicholas Roerich traveled to and arrived at Himis. Roerich saw the same documents as Notovitch and Abhedananda, and he also recorded the same story of Saint Issa. (There is a film documentary and a book on this subject, by Janet and Richard Bock, called "The Lost Years of Jesus"), and an extended publication regarding the years spent by Jesus in India, with extremely detailed historical accounts and pictures, is also contained in the best selling book "Jesus lived in India" by Holger Kersten.)
In 1939 Elizabeth Caspari, who along with a Mrs. Clarence Gasque visited the monastery and spoke with Lama Nawong Zangpo, who was in charge of the Himis library, and two other monks. They revealed three manuscripts in ornate coverings, one of which the librarian ceremoniously unwrapped the parchment leaves and with great reverence said, "These books say your Jesus was here."(Mrs. Gasque was known internationally as the head of the World Fellowship of Faith, and Ms. Caspari later became noted for having established the first Montessori school in the U.S.)
In the 1970s a monk at the monastery told the late Edward Noack and his wife that: "There are manuscripts in our library that describe the journey of Jesus to the East."
Another who learned of the Issa document’s existence was Robert Ravicz, who had been a professor of anthropology at California State University at Northridge, who reported that while at Himis in 1975 he learned of the "lost years" Jesus-in-India tradition from an eminent physician in Ladakh.
The great Paramahansa Yogananda, who wrote Autobiography of a Yogi (and founded the Self-Realization Fellowship in America in 1925), later authored another book titled The Divine Romance (1986), which makes it clear that he was well aware of and sincerely believed in the evidence of the Issa story, not only from evidence cited above, but also from the canonical and non-canonical (Gnostic) Christian texts as well.
Even Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri, the guru of Yogananda, wrote a study said to have proved that Jesus had lived in India and that his teachings were identical with the Sanatana Dharma which he adopted and preached later. That is probably why Paramhansa Yogananda wrote and lectured extensively on the teachings of Jesus.
Modern scholars have confirmed the story as well. For example, according to James W. Deardorff, a Professor at Oregon State University, Swami Abhedananda was right.
“The findings of the Hindu monk, Swami Abhedananda, support Notovitch's discovery in practically all respects. ... Having learned of Notovitch's find and read his book, he decided to take his own trip to Himis monastery to check it out, which he did in 1922, accompanied by some others, including an expert translator from Leh. They persuaded a lama to show them a manuscript containing the Isa verses, which he read to Abhedananda and his interpreter, who then translated them into Bengali. The Himis manuscript was in Tibetan; the original was said to have been written in Pali and to exist in the monastery of Marbour near Lhasa, all of which confirms what Notovitch had learned, and indicates that J. Archibald Douglas [a critic and accuser] had either been hoaxed into confirming the conclusions he was looking for, or had engineered such a hoax himself. We have much in writing about Abhedananda and who he was, but nothing about this ‘Professor Douglas.’ Abhedananda wrote his book containing their travelogue and a fresh version of the Isa verses in stages, with the help of an assistant and a later editor; in 1987 it was finally translated into English.”
“The Swami ordered and numbered his set of Isa verses after the manner of Notovitch's set; however, the set he presented contained far fewer verses than the 244 within Notovitch's set, which is consistent with Abhedananda mentioning that his set was derived from just one book at the monastery, while Notovitch had mentioned a second book or manuscript being involved also. In addition, however, Abhedananda omitted publication of many verses, apparently because they contain material that could be deemed offensive to different branches of Hinduism. Comparison of those verses that are common to the two sets of Isa text indicates little difference in substance but very appreciable differences in sentence structure and detail, as is to be expected from different translators and languages of translation having been involved.”
Ramakrishna Vedanta Math also agrees: "One of the skeptics who personally investigated Notovich's claim was Swami Abhedananda, who journeyed to the monastery determined to either find a copy of the Himis manuscript or to expose it as a fraud. His book of travels, entitled Kashmir O Tibetti, tells of a visit to the Hemis gompa and includes a Bengali translation of two hundred twenty-four verses essentially the same as the Notovitch text, corroborating the existence of the documents."
So you see, throughout the twentieth century, many individuals have responded positively to the work of Notovitch, including Swami Trigunatitananda, Nicholas Roerich, Swami Abhedananda, Levi Dowling (author of The Aquarian Gospel of Jesus the Christ), Janet and Richard Bock, and Paramahansa Yogananda. They have all provided evidence or support that has made the story of Issa alive and well today.
That is not only because so many have verified the story. It is also because, even according to Notovitch, Issa taught such things as the following:
"Worship not idols. Do not consider yourself first. Do not humiliate your neighbor. Help the poor. Sustain the feeble. Do evil to no one. Do not covet that which you do not possess and which is possessed by others." (Notice that those are all basic tenets of Judaism.)
"Men should not strive to behold the Eternal Spirit with one's own eyes but to feel it with the heart."
"Do not steal the goods of others, because that would be usurpation from your near one. Do not cheat, that you may in turn not be cheated."
"Beware, you who divert men from the true path and who fill the people with superstitions and prejudices, who blind the vision of the seeing ones, and who preach subservience to material things."
"Reverence Woman, mother of the universe,' in her lies the truth of creation. She is the foundation of all that is good and beautiful. She is the source of life and death. Upon her depends the existence of man, because she is the sustenance of his labors. She gives birth to you in travail, she watches over your growth. Bless her. Honor her. Defend her. Love your wives and honor them, because tomorrow they shall be mothers, and later-progenitors of a whole race. Their love ennobles man, soothes the embittered heart and tames the beast. Wife and mother-they are the adornments of the universe."
"As light divides itself from darkness, so does woman possess the gift to divide in man good intent from the thought of evil. Your best thoughts must belong to woman. Gather from them your moral strength, which you must possess to sustain your near ones. Do not humiliate her, for therein you will humiliate yourselves. And all which you will do to mother, to wife, to widow or to another woman in sorrow; that shall you also do for the Spirit."
The Skeptics and Critics of Notovitch and the Story of Issa
In October 1894 Max Muller of Oxford University published a refutation of Notovitch in a scholarly review. Muller asserted that an old document like the one Notovitch allegedly found would have been included in the Kandjur and Tandjur, which are Tibetan catalogues in which all important literature is supposed to be listed. He rejected Notovitch's account of the origin of the Issa document, and he questioned how those who had known Issa in India somehow knew Issa was the same person as Jesus who had been put to death under Pontius Pilate (which Notovitch had stated in his book). Muller also cites a letter sent to him from someone who had visited the monastery of Himis and made inquiries about Notovitch. Muller wrote that according the letter, dated June 29, 1894, "there is not a single word of truth in the whole story! There has been no Russian here. There is no life of Christ there at all!"
However, while Muller raises some valid questions, he provides no proof, only questions and skepticism. And it has been proven that the Russian Notovitch had been in Leh.
Perhaps the most influential or effective critic accusing Notovitch was a Professor J. Archibald Douglas of Agra in June 1895. Having read Notovitch’s book, Douglas went to the Himis Monastery intent on exposing the book as a hoax. And even though Douglas found and had to admit that Notovitch had been to Leh, Douglas’ report (which has been cited by critics ever since) included a claim that the head lama of the Hemis monastery at Leh stated that no European with a broken leg (part of Notovitch’s account) had visited the monastery and that he knew nothing of the alleged scroll or document.
Douglas even quoted the head lama as saying: "I have never heard of [a manuscript] which mentions the name of Issa, and it is my firm and honest belief that none such exists. I have inquired of our principal Lamas in other monasteries of Tibet, and they are not acquainted with any books or manuscripts which mention the name of Issa." And when Douglas read portions of Notovitch's book to the lama, Douglas claims he responded, "Lies, lies, lies, nothing but lies!"
Now, let's examine this, because as you may have noticed, Douglas’ account raises questions. For example, why did Douglas have to read Notivitch’s book to the head lama? If the head lama had already “inquired of our principal Lamas in other monasteries of Tibet” about a document about Issa, wouldn’t that indicate that he had already read Notovitch’s book and had made his inquiries to other monasteries long before Douglas’ visit? And why would an actual Buddhist lama be so angry as to say “Lies, lies, lies, nothing but lies!”
Of course, that might have been because of what V. R. Gandhi has suggested, that the custodians of the sacred literature of the East have been suspicious and resentful ever since Muslim invaders of India once destroyed thousands of the Indians' sacred documents, and and even more so since early Christian missionaries confiscated and/or belittled some of their Buddhist and Hindu documents. And after all, this distrustful attitude persists today, at least at Himis monastery, according to Tibetologists David L. Snellgrove and Tadeusz Skorupski.
However, the claim made by Douglas that the Himis Monastery head lama or abbot had been so vehement about the Issa story was a "Lie!" could very well have been exaggerated if not fabricated.
Another critic was the Hindu Swami Vivekananda, but the circumstance were rather odd, and not well known. One of Vivekananda’s disciples, Swami Trigunatita (who we already listed as a supporter of the Issa story) had visited the Hemis Monastery in 1895 and had seen the Issa document, assumed that Notovich’s book was therefore authentic, and wrote his guru (Vivekananda) about it. And rather surprisingly, according to Marie Louise Burke in her biography of Swami Trigunatita, quoted a letter from Vivekananda to Trigunatita dated March 2, 1896, in which he wrote: “On perusal of your letter on Tibet, I came to lose all regard for your common sense,” and he said it was “nonsense to say Notovitch’s book is genuine.” He even questioned Trigunatita for mentioning that he had seen a painting of Issa, and suggested that it was probably a painting of Jesus put up there by a Christian.
There were other critics and accusers of Notovitch as well, some of whom claimed that the story of his visit to Hemis was simply an idea borrowed from Helena Blavatsky's book Isis Unveiled, which speaks of a traveler with the broken leg was taken in at Mount Athos in Greece and found the text of Celsus' True Doctrine in the monastery library. And they probably came up with that notion having found that Nicholas Roerich, one of the supporters of the Issa story, was a Theosophist and follower of Blavatsky.
By the way, since that criticism has been raised by critics, it should be said that Helena Blavatsky was a Russian who became a scholar of ancient or ageless wisdom literature. In 1875 she was instrumental in establishing the Theosophical Society to further “the study of ancient and modern religions, philosophies and sciences.” Her motto was "There is no Religion higher than Truth," which is true, and she did some good work.
However, in the first book of the modern son of man, Real Prophecy Unveiled: Why the Religious Right Is Wrong, and Why the Christ Will Not Come Again, he wrote that much of the work of people like Helena Blavatsky, Alice Bailey and Benjamin Creme “is far too esoteric and unnecessarily complex and complicated for the vast majority of people.” And in his third book, Getting From Babylon to New Jerusalem, he wrote that “Blavatsky threw in a lot of her own ideas and beliefs into the traditional Ageless Wisdom teachings,” and she even made some implausible claims. He also suggested or implied, to put it kindly, that the Theosophists were and still are not as well grounded as the original and genuine Freemasons and Rosicrucians who played an instrumental role in the growing acceptance of Ageless Wisdom teachings and Deism throughout the 1700s and 1800s (which was popular with many of the Founding Fathers of the U.S.A., like George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, who were Freemasons, and others who were Deists.)
The evidence provided by Notovitch, Trigunatitananda, Abhedananda, Roerich, Merrick, Caspari, Gasque, Noack, Ravicz, Yogananda, Yukteswar Giri, Deardorff the Bocks and others is significant and convincing if not thoroughly conclusive in confirming and supporting the story of Issa.
Furthermore, while the critics do raise some good questions and make some good points, it is clear that the motive of some of them was to try to discredit the Issa story to support their own religious or spiritual or atheistic belief system, and some of them were biased in favor of canonical Christian tradition and doctrine and were against the idea of Jesus being influenced by Buddhist and Hindu philosophy, despite the fact that he obviously was.
People can choose to believe whatever they wish. However, even though Notavitch’s book has some questionable things in it, the story of Issa is reasonable and, as was stated earlier, it would help explain why the basic, core teachings of Jesus/Issa are very similar to the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama the Buddha, as is explained in books like Jesus and Buddha: The Parallel Sayings, by Marcus Borg et al, and Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, by Thich Nhat Hanh, and in other books on the subject.
Furthermore, it would help explain why many of the parables of Jesus are similar to those in the Hindu Vedas, and why Jesus spoke as a Hindu Avatar, speaking as, but for, the Ancient One and the Holy One who is within, above and around us all, saying "I am the the way, the truth, and the Light," and "Before Abraham was, I am."
That, after all, is similar to what many Siddhas and Sat Gurus in the Hindu traditions have said. For example, the great Meher Baba said: "I am the Ancient One. I am the One so many seek and so few find. For no amount of intellect can fathom me. No amount of austerity can attain me. Only when one loves me and loses one’s self in me, am I found."
Those words, like some of the words attributed to Jesus, are what the Holy One says through a Christ or an Avatar or Siddha or other genuine servant-representative of God, being one who is fully enlightened and has been blessed with divine self-realization and knowledge that they are one with God and one with humanity.