What if Buddhism had become the dominant faith of Europe?

Whether you're exploring Buddhism for the first time or you're already on the path, feel free to ask questions of any kind here.

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

Postby tobes » Wed Jan 15, 2014 1:35 am

jeeprs wrote: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.)


Very interesting Jeeprs. I agree that the rise of nominalism was very influential in shaping the empirical branches of modern science. That the battles over that ground were so intense tells us much about just how orthodox Christian Aristotelianism was through the (long) medieval period. It wasn't 'a few adherents' - it was the undisputed normative cosmology, metaphysics, logic, morality and politics. I think that Hobbes in particular was the thinker to really break with this (his distaste for Christian Aristotelianism was unmistakable).....and so the seeds of modernity were laid.

:anjali:

:anjali:
User avatar
tobes
 
Posts: 985
Joined: Fri Dec 24, 2010 5:02 am

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

Postby Alfredo » Wed Jan 15, 2014 1:56 am

Okay, I'll play.

The Roman Empire was chock full of what we might call "Eastern religions"--the cults of Isis, Mithras, Cybele, and even Judaism and Christianity can be seen in this light. One factor promoting this was the increased trade ties among various far-flung parts of the Empire. While many elements of ancient Greco-Roman religion were very localized, and limited to a particular city-state, some of the Mysteries had a trans-imperial presence. Insofar as we can reconstruct them, they seem to have had many elements in common (such as initiation, and particular social structure, and a sacred meal consisting of eating the god's "body" and/or drinking his "blood"). If Buddhism had somehow replaced Christianity as the religion of Justinian and Constantine, presumably it would have come to look very much like Christianity or Mithraism.

Another line of alternate-history speculation might involve a Mongol conquest of Europe, followed by a large-scale conversion to Buddhism. This poses problems, since the Mongol Empire was multi-religious at its height. Parts of it later converted to Islam, and several Yuan and Oirat emperors converted to Tibetan Buddhism. Perhaps, if Prince Vladimir of Kiev had been able to visit a Tibeto-Mongolian temple, he might have had much the same reaction that he did (according to legend) with respect to the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople!

Or Hitler could have become a Buddhist (what he did wasn't that far off), AND won WW2. Or the youth movement of the 1960's could have taken on Buddhist overtones. (Imagine Paris 1968 as a Buddhist protest, with immolations and such.)

Anyway, "science and rationalism" is not necessarily what you'd get from a Buddhist Europe. A number of scholars have credited Christianity, or certain forms of it, with creating the conditions where these could arise.
Alfredo
 
Posts: 322
Joined: Sun Dec 16, 2012 3:52 am

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

Postby Alfredo » Wed Jan 15, 2014 2:03 am

PS. Roman Christianity tended to view pagan religions as demonic--they believed in the gods, they just thought they were demons. It was out of this conflict that our idea of "religion" (as a complex with beliefs, rituals, a social structure, and a group identity) arose. This would have been handled very differently in Buddhism. Just as Padmasambhava is said to have converted Bon deities, so might Buddhist missionaries have incorporated Jupiter and Minerva into their religion somehow! Also, "religion" as we know it (including inter-religious conflict) might never have arisen. Food for thought....
Alfredo
 
Posts: 322
Joined: Sun Dec 16, 2012 3:52 am

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

Postby jeeprs » Wed Jan 15, 2014 11:03 am

Alfredo wrote:Or Hitler could have become a Buddhist (what he did wasn't that far off), AND won WW2.


That is one of those statements that is called in Australia 'a BBQ stopper'. :twothumbsup:

Anyway you are helping me to realize that whenever 'a faith becomes dominant' then it tends towards authoritarianism. We mustn't forget that Guatama was a renunciate with no worldly power.
He that knows it, knows it not.
User avatar
jeeprs
 
Posts: 1414
Joined: Sun May 27, 2012 8:31 am
Location: Sydney AU

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

Postby Sherab Dorje » Wed Jan 15, 2014 1:56 pm

tobes wrote:
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.

:anjali:
Just because somebody uses rational method doesn't make them rational. Want to have a rational discussion over whether angels have belly buttons or not?
"When one is not in accord with the true view
Meditation and conduct become delusion,
One will not attain the real result
One will be like a blind man who has no eyes."
Naropa - Summary of the View from The Eight Doha Treasures
User avatar
Sherab Dorje
Former staff member
 
Posts: 7905
Joined: Fri May 14, 2010 9:27 pm
Location: Greece

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

Postby tatpurusa » Wed Jan 15, 2014 8:30 pm

Sherab Dorje wrote: discussion over whether angels have belly buttons or not?


No, they don't, but they definitely have bottom bells .. :tongue:
tatpurusa
 
Posts: 171
Joined: Sat Oct 31, 2009 1:17 am

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

Postby Malcolm » Wed Jan 15, 2014 9:11 pm

jeeprs wrote:
The key background factor in all of it was the influence of the nominalists and the overthrow of medieval scholasticism...


Buddhist pramāṇa is nominalist. But it did not help much at all in overthrowing Buddhist medieval scholasticism -- for example, rational people who insist that Meru cosmology is valid.
http://www.bhaisajya.net
http://atikosha.org
འ༔ ཨ༔ ཧ༔ ཤ༔ ས༔ མ༔

" The one who teaches the benefits of peace,
he is said to be a ṛṣī; the others are the opposite of him."

-- Uttaratantra
Malcolm
 
Posts: 10202
Joined: Thu Nov 11, 2010 2:19 am

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

Postby tobes » Wed Jan 15, 2014 11:01 pm

Sherab Dorje wrote:
Just because somebody uses rational method doesn't make them rational. Want to have a rational discussion over whether angels have belly buttons or not?


Does this critique also apply to Buddhists and Buddhism?

If it does - and it surely must - then where are we left?

With this conclusion: traditions which make use of rational methods are distinct from the crazy-irrational beings who adhere to them.

I'm fine with that. Note that it doesn't grant us a European Buddhist scientific utopia......

:anjali:
User avatar
tobes
 
Posts: 985
Joined: Fri Dec 24, 2010 5:02 am

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

Postby Simon E. » Thu Jan 16, 2014 12:25 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.

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 Yobviated 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?

it didn't.
Simon E.
 
Posts: 2140
Joined: Tue May 15, 2012 11:09 am

Previous

Return to Exploring Buddhism

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Google [Bot] and 9 guests

>