What if Buddhism had become the dominant faith of Europe?

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What if Buddhism had become the dominant faith of Europe?

Postby Heterodox Garden » Tue Jan 14, 2014 1:31 am

This topic is intended to be an open, speculative discussion of what "might have been" if Buddhism had maded it westward and become the main faith of Europe, instead of Christianity.

One possible way this could have happened would be if so-called "Greco-Buddhism" had taken hold and flourished:


Greco-Buddhism, sometimes spelled Graeco-Buddhism, refers to the cultural syncretism between Hellenistic culture and Buddhism, which developed between the 4th century BCE and the 5th century CE in the Indian sub-continent, especially in modern Afghanistan, Pakistan and north-western border regions of modern India. It was a cultural consequence of a long chain of interactions begun by Greek forays into India from the time of Alexander the Great, carried further by the establishment of Indo-Greek rule in the area for some centuries, and extended during flourishing of the Hellenized empire of the Kushans. Greco-Buddhism influenced the artistic, and perhaps the spiritual development of Buddhism, particularly Mahayana Buddhism, which represents one of the two main branches of Buddhism.

More at source:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greco-Buddhism

I submit to you that if this had happened, Greco-Roman scientific rationalism and science would never have experienced the crushing repression that it was subjected to in the Middle Ages under Christianity. In my personal opinion, the iron-age desert Abrahamic faiths tend to encourage a retrogressive, violent, and atavistic mindset, and one that is not compatible with science and rationalism. There is much more room for empirical thought in Buddhist mental frameworks, and I believe that Buddhism is ultimately more healthy for the human spirit. Without the dark ages stretching from the decline of Rome to the Renaissance, science would have developed much further, while at the same time a Buddhistic outlook could have obviated many of the more warlike events of European history. We'd probably be building our first interstellar star ships right about now, not to mention living in a much less oppressive and environmentally degraded world.

Thoughts?
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Re: What if Buddhism had become the dominant faith of Europe

Postby plwk » Tue Jan 14, 2014 2:13 am

You see... there's 'Buddhism' and 'Buddhists'...so, get my idea?
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Re: What if Buddhism had become the dominant faith of Europe

Postby tobes » Tue Jan 14, 2014 3:49 am

Heterodox Garden wrote:
I submit to you that if this had happened, Greco-Roman scientific rationalism and science would never have experienced the crushing repression that it was subjected to in the Middle Ages under Christianity. In my personal opinion, the iron-age desert Abrahamic faiths tend to encourage a retrogressive, violent, and atavistic mindset, and one that is not compatible with science and rationalism. There is much more room for empirical thought in Buddhist mental frameworks, and I believe that Buddhism is ultimately more healthy for the human spirit. Without the dark ages stretching from the decline of Rome to the Renaissance, science would have developed much further, while at the same time a Buddhistic outlook could have obviated many of the more warlike events of European history. We'd probably be building our first interstellar star ships right about now, not to mention living in a much less oppressive and environmentally degraded world.

Thoughts?


Naive, fallacious and hopelessly partial: Buddhism the scientific faith, perfect for all in this empirical age......

The Abrahamic faiths produced science and rationalism. And they propagated Greco-Roman philosophy.

Starting with such obviously flawed premises, I'm not sure how far this speculative venture can go.

Maybe you could re-frame it after inquiring more deeply into the relationship between the monotheistic traditions and rationalism, mathematics, empiricism and science?

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Re: What if Buddhism had become the dominant faith of Europe

Postby Lindama » Tue Jan 14, 2014 4:06 am

Don't have any energy to speculate on what might have been.... it's certainly not a Buddhist value, nor a Christian value.

I don't know much, but I am not aware that Buddhist countries are fairing any better than Christianity in western countries... the suffering and the bloodshed continues. All I have to do is look in my local sangha to know that Buddhism is not a panacea for suffering.

If we truly care, the question remains... how can we find the heart essence that can be of assistance to others... one to one.
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Re: What if Buddhism had become the dominant faith of Europe

Postby Lindama » Tue Jan 14, 2014 4:22 am

Just now found this.... the Buddhist and Christian spirit is alive on the streets of Pittsburg five nights a week. I know someone who worked the streets of SFO in a similar way... it is possible. We don't need to speculate on good works. But, is there one country where religion or compassion is predominant?

http://www.upworthy.com/a-doctor-has-spent-decades-dressing-up-like-a-homeless-man-the-reason-is-fantastic?c=ufb1
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Re: What if Buddhism had become the dominant faith of Europe

Postby duckfiasco » Tue Jan 14, 2014 5:53 am

The problems we see today are caused by the perennial human troubles that religions seek to address in general.
I doubt much would be different, personally.
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Re: What if Buddhism had become the dominant faith of Europe

Postby Pero » Tue Jan 14, 2014 6:35 am

Heterodox Garden wrote:This topic is intended to be an open, speculative discussion of what "might have been" if Buddhism had maded it westward and become the main faith of Europe, instead of Christianity.

Possibly we'd all be saying Allah Akbar today. Or we'd all be peasants with our lives being under monastery control. We probably wouldn't be talking over the internet either way. :rolling:
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Re: What if Buddhism had become the dominant faith of Europe

Postby Wayfarer » Tue Jan 14, 2014 7:13 am

Well, as we're speculating, I will speculate that the Scientific Revolution would never have taken off were it not for the pre-existing tradition of Greek rationalism, generally, and Pythagoreanism, in particular. It is interesting to note that during the European 'dark ages' both China and India were a very long way ahead of Europe by practically any measure - cultural, scientific, and economic. Yet after the Renaissance, Europe began to flourish and Western science has since transformed the entire world. I once did an undergraduate essay on that question, and the most likely explanation seemed to me that Eastern civilizations were oriented towards the notion of a 'past golden age' whereas Europe transformed the notion of the 'second coming' into hopes for the future (the 'eschaton as Utopia'). Of course these are all generalizations, and none of them can be proven, but they can be supported with arguments.

That said, I do believe that in many respects Buddhism as a form of religious culture is well equipped to deal with science, although I also think the early 20th c notion of Buddhism as a 'rational faith' was pretty naive. In any case modernity and post-modernity is a melting pot, or rather a furnace, and everything going into it is becoming melted down and transformed, for better or for worse.

And finally - whenever 'faith' becomes dominant, then I think it portends trouble. I don't like to think of Buddhism as a 'faith', or only as 'a faith', but as a cognitive discipline, a way of seeing and understanding.
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Re: What if Buddhism had become the dominant faith of Europe

Postby Lindama » Tue Jan 14, 2014 7:37 am

If we boil it down, eastern spirituality is inner-directed, western spirituality is out-directed. There is an ebb and flow, yin and yang of east and west... in the web of life

Both are dancing and necessary... included in the cycles are enlightenment, jet planes, meditation and politics... on and on

hmmm, from that perspective it's a good thing that one or the other did not assume permanence
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Re: What if Buddhism had become the dominant faith of Europe

Postby LastLegend » Tue Jan 14, 2014 7:59 am

Would it have made the world a better place?

Strangely, Buddha appeared in a place where crude caste system was practiced and Buddhism continues to thrive well in the 'slum."
I guess, "out of the mud, the lotus grows."
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Re: What if Buddhism had become the dominant faith of Europe

Postby Lindama » Tue Jan 14, 2014 8:22 am

LastLegend wrote:Would it have made the world a better place?

Strangely, Buddha appeared in a place where crude caste system was practiced and Buddhism continues to thrive well in the 'slum."
I guess, "out of the mud, the lotus grows."


That does it Last!

Maitria will again appear where crude caste system next appears ... the US, perhaps DC?? keep us posted.... :tongue:
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Re: What if Buddhism had become the dominant faith of Europe

Postby tobes » Tue Jan 14, 2014 9:20 am

jeeprs wrote:
That said, I do believe that in many respects Buddhism as a form of religious culture is well equipped to deal with science, although I also think the early 20th c notion of Buddhism as a 'rational faith' was pretty naive. In any case modernity and post-modernity is a melting pot, or rather a furnace, and everything going into it is becoming melted down and transformed, for better or for worse.



I think this is the key point for me - rationality in Buddhism is clearly there (i.e. the pramana of anumāna/inference is important), but at the end of the day, a lot of it hangs on śabda (verbal testimony). If you take śabda away, whatever is left is some Protestant reconstruction of Buddhism. Note the word Protestant. The irony here is deep: from a rationalist Protestant standpoint, Buddhism is re-constructed to be rationalist, and European religions are held to be irrational!

Yet the streak of a pure rationalism runs through all the the three monotheistic religions, which have been hung in the OP for been irrational. The influence of Aristotle and the neo-platonists run deep in all three traditions, well before the renaissance. By the time of modernity, this streak has become so pure that theism is standing on the bedrock of geometry and physics (Spinoza) and calculus (Leibniz). Irrational?? No, if there is a problem with western theologies, it is very much the opposite.

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Re: What if Buddhism had become the dominant faith of Europe

Postby Lindama » Tue Jan 14, 2014 9:32 am

hello?
is that so?
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Re: What if Buddhism had become the dominant faith of Europe

Postby tobes » Tue Jan 14, 2014 11:09 am

Hello.

Yes, it is so.

The notion that god is (ontologically) reason, and that the universe is thus fundamentally a rationally ordered system has been the most dominant animating force through all three traditions (and it has clearly been a major influence in the development of western science - Newtonian physics is the perfect example). There have always been mystical reactions against this orthodoxy, but the fact of its orthodoxy cannot seriously be disputed.

Unless of course, one never bothers to look into the facts of the matter, which is rather a common strategy.

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Re: What if Buddhism had become the dominant faith of Europe

Postby Sherab Dorje » Tue Jan 14, 2014 11:23 am

tobes wrote:The Abrahamic faiths produced science and rationalism.
I would have to disagree. I would say that some adherents of the Abrahamic faiths built on the rationalism of Ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, not produced it.
And they propagated Greco-Roman philosophy.
Well, actually, no. From the point where Christianity became the official religion of the Byzantine Empire (from the emperor Justinian and onwards) Greco-Roman philosophy was actively (and violently) repressed.
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Re: What if Buddhism had become the dominant faith of Europe

Postby Astus » Tue Jan 14, 2014 12:08 pm

Religion is not the only force in a society. Highlighting any factor and raising above the others results in serious distortion of one's perspective. History is often viewed as the history of politics, warfare and economics, and that is somewhat biased too, but still more encompassing and logical than putting religion to the front. No Buddhist country I have heard of achieved some sort of golden age where at least the basic five precepts were observed. I'd also be interested to hear of Buddhist scientists and inventors before European influence in Asia.

What if Buddhism had become the dominant faith? Nothing. Christianity had a widespread and influential monastic system, mostly wiped out either by Protestant rulers or by other political changes. Christians have a strong message to "love thy neighbour", but it didn't really stop people from waging wars, pillaging and ransacking towns, suppressing the poor, and persecuting intellectuals and other unwanted people. Buddhism cannot really show any better historical record in transforming societies, plus it mostly lacks the level of social engagement Christianity has always had.
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Re: What if Buddhism had become the dominant faith of Europe

Postby tatpurusa » Tue Jan 14, 2014 3:13 pm

Sherab Dorje wrote:
tobes wrote:The Abrahamic faiths produced science and rationalism.
I would have to disagree. I would say that some adherents of the Abrahamic faiths built on the rationalism of Ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, not produced it.
And they propagated Greco-Roman philosophy.
Well, actually, no. From the point where Christianity became the official religion of the Byzantine Empire (from the emperor Justinian and onwards) Greco-Roman philosophy was actively (and violently) repressed.


Agree.
It was not the Christians, but actually the Arab muslims of North-Africa who preserved Greco-Roman philosophy and brought it back to Europe through Spain that they conquered.
From them it was passed on to Christian Europeans, instead of the initial resistance by the Roman Catholic Church.
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Re: What if Buddhism had become the dominant faith of Europe

Postby tobes » Tue Jan 14, 2014 11:11 pm

Sherab Dorje wrote:
tobes wrote:The Abrahamic faiths produced science and rationalism.
I would have to disagree. I would say that some adherents of the Abrahamic faiths built on the rationalism of Ancient Greek and Roman philosophers, not produced it.


They certainly built on it, I grant you that. But they also produced it. For example, in the Talmudic tradition of Rabbinical debate over esoteric and legalistic doctrines. I think the point would be that rationalism permeates through these traditions in a very complex and dialectical fashion. It's very hard to separate where the rationalism is intrinsic to the particular tradition and where it is a dialectical response to the ancient philosophic tradition. All of this intertwines in rather a messy but interesting soup of reason.

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Re: What if Buddhism had become the dominant faith of Europe

Postby tobes » Tue Jan 14, 2014 11:23 pm

Sherab Dorje wrote:Well, actually, no. From the point where Christianity became the official religion of the Byzantine Empire (from the emperor Justinian and onwards) Greco-Roman philosophy was actively (and violently) repressed.


Sure, there were times when particular strands of Christianity repressed Greco-Roman philosophy. Three relevant points here - a/ When it did so, although political motives were probably dominant, there were deeply rational theological arguments given to justify it. b/ In this time, the two other monotheistic religions were deeply engaged with Greco-Roman philosophy (i.e. we're not just talking about Christianity), and c/ ultimately, the Latin form of Christianity which the OP seems to have in mind came to be unambiguously Aristotelian and Neo-platonic in metaphysical and moral orientation. This is the form of Christianity held to be - from go to woe - deeply irrational.

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Re: What if Buddhism had become the dominant faith of Europe

Postby Wayfarer » Tue Jan 14, 2014 11:52 pm

I think the biggest problem in modern western theologies can be attributed to the influence of Calvinism and the core ideas of 'salvation by faith alone', the condemnation of human reason owing to the idea of 'total depravity', and the repugnant 'doctrine of the elect' which condemns the vast majority of mankind to eternal hellfire. It is an intrinsically authoritarian model in my view.

I read a fascinating book in 2009 called The Theological Origins of Modernity in which Michael Allen Gillespie argues 'that from the very beginning moderns sought not to eliminate religion but to support a new view of religion and its place in human life. He goes on to explore the ideas of such figures as William of Ockham, Petrarch, Erasmus, Luther, Descartes, and Hobbes, showing that modernity is best understood as a series of attempts to formulate a new and coherent metaphysics or theology.'

The key background factor in all of it was the influence of the nominalists and the overthrow of medieval scholasticism, which gave rise to today's scientific empiricism. The nominalists put great emphasis on the total unknowability of God, who was said not to be bound by any ideas of human rationality whatever. These he contrasted with the scholastics, who valued reason and saw the 'intelligible order of the Universe' as evidence of the divine intelligence. (I think that many of the mathematical physicists to this day have been much nearer to scholasticism and platonism.)

Of particular importance in that book were the debates between Luther and Erasmus - the latter seems far more humane, rational, and intelligent - and between Hobbes, the influential materialist, and Descartes. (Critical review here.)
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