World Scripture
CHAPTER 11: The Founder

This chapter contains passages on the life and work of the founders of religion, who first discovered the truth that leads to salvation, offered their whole lives to enlighten and save others, provided for subsequent generations models of the ideal person, and continue to shed grace and light into the hearts of people everywhere. Among these great souls are Jesus, Muhammad, the Buddha, Confucius, Abraham, Moses, Zarathustra, Lao Tzu, Mahavira, Nanak, and the ancient Hindu rishis. Hindu scriptures also chronicle the exploits of Krishna and Rama, avatars of the Lord Vishnu. Confucian scriptures eulogize the lives of the ancient sage-kings Wen, Yao, Shun, and the Duke of Chou. We also include passages on the founders of some of the newer religions, such as Joseph Smith, Baha'u'llah, and Sun Myung Moon.

And yet, this consideration of the founders of religion as a genus should not be construed as leveling them to figures of equal significance. Each one is unique, and each stands in a unique position in relation to the religion which he spawned. For the Christian, it is the saving work of Christ alone that saves, notwithstanding the accomplishments of other founders, no matter how great they may be. Similarly, the Muslim's faith is defined uniquely by the message of Muhammad, and the Buddhist's by the enlightenment and teachings of Siddhartha. The committed believer is confronted with one individual as the standard of truth and love and who defines the true way. The declaration, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but by me" (John 14.6) is echoed by similar statements in many religions: "Outside the Buddha's dispensation there is no saint" (Dhammapada 254); "Muhammad is the Seal of the Prophets" (Qur'an 33.40); "Glory be to Lord Mahavira, the teacher of the world" (Nandi Sutra 2). The believer must be faithful to the founder of his own tradition, who sets before him the truth and offers him the gracious help that guides his life. That is his faith; he cannot but cleave to it. Then, on that foundation, he may look about and observe the comparisons made in this chapter. He will find that the founders of other faiths have also been given insight into divine truth and have lived out that truth in an exemplary manner. He finds them worthy of respect, for their faith is comparable to the standard of faith set by his own tradition.

Another difficulty which besets any treatment of the founders of religions is that in certain traditions they are regarded as gods or as possessed of divine attributes--a topic which in itself is worthy of consideration in this chapter. Thus Jesus of Nazareth is the incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity; Siddhartha is a manifestation of the eternal Buddha or Dharmakaya, Krishna and Rama are incarnations of Vishnu, who in his cosmic form pervades the entire universe, and the Shinto culture heroes are gods who have come down from heaven. Yet to the extent that the founders are regarded as divine, their very human accomplishments--suffering persecution and rejection, struggling with temptation, and extending themselves in the service of others--may be mitigated. What, after all, is persecution or temptation to a god? What is so praiseworthy about a person helping others if he is omnipotent and endowed with all treasures? Hence, in this chapter we have tried to avoid particularly Docetic passages in favor of passages where the founders are regarded as subject to the ordinary limitations of being human.

Similarly, any distinction between the salvation wrought of God and the saving work of a human founder becomes blurred when the founder is at the same time the very deity who is continually offering salvation. We have treated the theme of salvation as divine activity in Chapter 10. There we have placed many passages on the saving work of Jesus, Buddha, and Krishna as it is a function of their divinity, while reserving passages which describe their more particularly human existence for this chapter.

These founders, saviors, and pathfinders are compared in various aspects of their life, faith, work, and character by bringing together comparable passages. We will consider first the founders' call and their initial embarkation on the path, second their difficult course of persecution and rejection by the world, and third their victory, triumphing over all difficulties and fully realizing the divine purpose. One section gathers passages describing their struggle with and victory over evil and demonic powers. Another contains descriptions of their roles as revealers and teachers, bringing new truth and light for the people of their age and subsequent ages. Other texts show the founders to be supreme examples of self-sacrifice and service to others as they gave of themselves to the mission of saving and enlightening this dark world. Their accomplishments not being limited to their own lifetimes, a seventh grouping of texts describe these founders as forever alive in peoples' hearts, as the continuing light and inspiration for every age, and as intercessors on the believers' behalf. An eighth section treats various conceptions of the founder's person--e.g., his humanity and divinity. We have gathered texts foundational to Christian reflections on Christ's divinity, Buddhist reflections on the three bodies of the Buddha, and similar ideas in other religions, as well as passages which express the ordinary humanity of Muhammad, Moses, Confucius, and other founders from traditions which deny that their founders are divine. The final section relates each founder of religion to a long line of prophets, Buddhas, Tirthankaras, avatars, teachers, or sages who preceded him and who may follow him in the future.