The year 1812 was a momentous year in our study of the discovery of ancient linkage between Buddhism and the Western World; in that year, an intrepid Swiss archaeologist named Johann Ludwig Burckhardt had stumbled upon the ancient ruins of a flourishing human habitation in the middle of Jordanian Desert.
The ruins of a city carved out of rockface quickly got christened as Petra, from Greek word ‘petros’ meaning rock. Even more so, since there were no claimants, the city was arbitrarily given to ancient Biblical people called Nabataens, where it remains so today.
I lay spiritual claims upon the ownership of Petra Cave Monastery on behalf of my ancestors, the Ashokan Kirati Mongolian monks who had carved out the monastery.
We have so far examined how the monk missionaries had carried the gospel of Four Noble Truths to the East and in the process settled down in South East Asian Region. Some monk missionaries had travelled westward and established themselves in the middle of the desert and we can see their footprints through Afghanistan and if the pattern of carving the rockface at Petra is to be studied, we will find them closer to home in Ajanta and Ellora Caves in India. I emphatically assert here that as Hinduism supplanted Buddhism in India, Petra Cave Monastery, just like Ajanta and Ellora lost not only the patronage but fresh intake of novitiates and slowly withered away.
Apparently the monk missionaries were contemporarily known to the Judeo-Christian World as we find several references in the Bible of holy men living in caves whose identity however, has not been disclosed. When St Paul says he spent three years in the desert after his Damascus Road incident, he can be conveniently placed at the Petra Cave Monastery.
It is not a very far-fetched idea that the Three Wise Kings who came from the East to pay obeisance to Jesus the Christ at his birth could have been based on the nativity scene of the Buddha, five centuries earlier; we have seen them depicted on the walls of a Laotian temple and in Nepalese manuscripts.
Photo: Courtesy Wikipedia