Greek philosophy and Buddhism

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Greek philosophy and Buddhism

Post by Onasander »

[Mod note: This topic was not started by Onasander, it was created by splitting from here:] ... 63#p555463

No. I’m not a Buddhist but have done extensive research on Zoroastrian ideas that spread from Xinjiang in the 11th century to the Persian Empire, and can in this time period find many shared concepts passed along (the oldest recording of the Fall of the Shang Empire for example is in Koine, Greek, not Chinese).

Greeks got a lot of concepts from “India”, certain hymns from the Rg Veda were known in Athens in the period just after Alexander’s invasion, and other Indic concepts were openly debated in Platonic texts- this last part has been a open secret for quite some time but I haven’t released my evidence for the Rg Veda material. What Greeks very likely brought to India was concepts like Non-Duality. We know we developed that school at the very least independently in Greece but the timing of Alexander’s invasion so early on is highly suspect to me- I’m of increasingly high confidence a philosophy most Greek philosophers didn’t know what to do with- the Eleatic School, took root in India and history doesn’t remember why- but that could of happened much later on with a trail of philosophers heading east over the centuries. That’s one of two major contributions of western philosophy to India, the other is unfortunately Astrology. A astrologer from Alexandrian introduced them to Astrology, it is recorded in their texts to this day, they just have more astrological signs.

India did apparently give Greece via Antioch a branch of Indic Buddhism that we call the the Pyrrhonist school after Pyrrho of Elis. Some research has been done identifying the exact school of ancient Buddhism: ... d_Buddhism

That is likely why a lot of people are noting a lot of emphasis on the more logical friendly schools of Buddhism resembling western thought. At least half of it in terms of skepticism will come from that infiltrating the west, but the west certainly had a massive influence on India. Much of the Mahabharata is clearly originating from Greek myths, especially the Iliad- good book I’m currently reading is “Mahabharata and Greek Mythology”, Khrishna even does the exact same way as Achilles. Via Egypt during Roman times a lot of direct Monsoonal trade took place, and early variants of Vedantic philosophy made it into pagan Neo-Platonic thought, and much of that made it into Christian Neo-Platonic thought. This was done in the waning years of Buddhism. The early vedantic school was of greater influence than Buddhism ever was on the west because of this. It could be they had a caste dedicated to trading or the Roman temples like that of Emperor Augustus in Kerala just had very friendly proto-Vedantic priests and cultural exchanges occurred. Also Christian Churches tend to have the same architectural dimensions as Temples in India, and India has few temples in Vedic times (they had fire altars).

No philosopher in Greece had the Buddha’s emphasis on compassion. If they did, we likely wouldn’t of had centuries of gladiator games with a philosophy central to compassion floating around. That did eventually occur via Jesus Christ, and it was stopped eventually. The Greeks did know of compassion, just wasn’t central to a philosophical school, and we have no records of a human oeconimical system relating to reincarnation appearing in the west LINKED to karma or compassion. You did have of course a merit based afterlife side by side with ideas of reincarnation, but not intrinsically linked. Zalmoxis didn’t do it, and he was teaching reincarnation prior to Buddha. India went Karma, West went Oeconomia. They aren’t without later developed parallels but not much in origin.

Of course many know Alexander’s Greeks influenced India art during Buddhist times, we know Greek colonists later on moved from the Indus to Sri Lanka, cults in Sri Lanka like the Cult of Dionysius very closely match up to what is in Sri Lanka now, but was recorded as being there prior to prior to Akexander’s forces invading.

Also we have some shared pro-Greek cultural heritage from Mesopotamia as well as shared myths from Indo-European history- I recently found for example archaic versions of the Pegasus (winged horse) myth is still active in India.

I have no doubt a lot of the Mahayana tradition is heavily infused with Greek influences, they were a local ethnic strata after all, we have texts of Greek Buddhists living in the Pali period as well as traveling west to convert westerners (and mostly failed- they don’t appear to gotten much farther than Central Asia and Western Iran for reasons I don’t understand). The west is simply lacking in Stupas converted into Churches, but the east has plenty of the opposite from western religions.

This continued on in the Middle Ages. Christianity picked up a few Buddhist and Hindu saints by accident due to the Silk Road- I recently identified The Wandering Jew as having a precise parallel in India and to a lesser degree parallels in China.

Basic rule of thumb:

Stone Age to Bronze Age- Mesopotamia influenced Iran and Shang/Western Zhou China, and the steppe, Iranian plateau and Mesopotamia influenced Europe. India was much closer then- due to Indo-Iranian tribes settling down.

Bronze and to Iron Age- India mostly influenced Europe than the other way around- and by India I mean the groups settled in Mesopotamia. Zoroastrian priesthood connected Chinese ideas to western ideas, just swapping local proper names for their stories from east or west. China was at its height in terms of importing stories and myths, many Chinese mythological creatures from far west are clearly Assyrian and Babylonian art motifs.

Alexander on- door was kicked down, direct contact to India established under Alexander. Chanakya started the Mauryan Empire to fight off Alexander. Later on Greek states made contact with China- China got its heavenly horses from Greeks, but Persians prior imported horses from Chinese. Buddhists sat in middle, got it from all directions. Elements of Greek Cynicism as I pointed out in another post made it into Milarepa, at a date when that earlier version died off in the west (other variations survived in Christianity (Holy Fools) and secular Court Jesters.

Things that Buddhists never successfully exported: Tantric Sex. Marco Polo was blown away at the sexuality of Central Asia and other lands east. We still are. Indians swear a Linga isn’t a big penis statue, but my mind still sees a penis after hearing the arguments. In India with the adoption of grand epics taken in hundreds of parts from Greek Eoic traditions, the old Vedic religion died, new cults rose in that place, Vedanta overtook Buddhism. Vedantic religion is increasingly turning monotheism and even Trinitarian. China was flooded with Islam and Christianity, Silk Road carried ideas both directions- japan has a lot of western myths clearly western in origin.

Also- logic when done right- it isn’t something we should be shocked when it pops up in another culture. It can be quite spontaneous, and well thought out. While a base number such as 10 vs 8 can be culturally specific, the idea of multiplication and division can pop up amongst the Eskimo or the Amazonians without contact. There really shouldn’t be pride in Buddhist schools having a logic more western or more dissimilar- if it is any good it should resemble that of other great societies and if your sect is super unique and nobody else can make sense of it, then it is likely a bad sign you have bad logicians.

To give you a sense of how easy it was for concepts to travel the ancient world- I believe it was St. Clement who wrote of a “Cynic Philosopher” who traveled from the east with a cow- during the day he would ride it, and drank from it for his food. He travel the world this way. Clearly a hindu on the move. Romans only people to keep a surviving record of him. No doubts lots of people walked around all over, and ideas spread. Neither India, Tibet or China was in a hidden place, they say in the very middle of all this. Of course they got a lot of stuff from others and gave in turn, unavoidable. Anyone pretending otherwise are foolishly proud and won’t look at Buddhism’s place on the historic map of the Silk Road. Not a hermetically sealed religion.
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Re: Greek philosophy and Buddhism

Post by pynedipayan »

Namaskaaram ! Your post is quite big. I will give a detailed response later. Right now, I'll just discuss two topics.

1) It does seem to be the case that Greece imported a lot of Philosophical Ideas from India, both before and after Alexander entered the Indian subcontinent. The Indian Philosophical influence on Greece, before Alexander, seems to have happened via the Persian Empire, way before Alexander. Thomas McEvilley discussed this in his book 'The Shape of Ancient Thought'.

2) I am almost 100 % sure that you are mistaken about India having imported Non Duality from Greece. Let's see why :

If I am not mistaken, Non Dualism refers to a School of Thought in which the Central Premise is that there is No Soul. This Idea actually goes back to Buddha himself. You see, the Pali Nikayas are filled with Suttas where Buddha talks about Anicca (Impermanence), Pratītyasamutpāda (Dependent Origination) and Anatta (Non Self). This is what Buddha must have understood : Since everything arises dependently (Dependent Origination), everything is impermanent (Anicca) and since a human being is one of those things that arise dependently, human beings are impermanent. If human beings are impermanent, there can not be anything permanent about them. Therefore, a Soul can not exist. What is this ? Non Dualism. If you go through Buddha's teachings, both Theoretical and Practical, it will become very very clear that he was a Non Dualist. One of his most famous Parables on Impermanence (and Non Attachment) is that of 'The Raft'. Now, Buddha died around 70 years before Alexander entered India. So, it is just not possible for India to have imported Non Dualism from Greece.

Now, some people might say the following : Buddha's Teachings were memorized and taught orally, both during his lifetime and after his death. They were written down, for the very first time, centuries after his death. By this time, the Greeks had already arrived in India and their ideas might have influenced the Buddhists who composed the Nikayas. This, to some extent, is highly likely and does seem to be the case. We can see the Greek influence on the Logical Works of Buddhists. However, Buddha's Own Teachings, recorded in the Nikayas, are Original. This has been established by historians/scholars/academics by studying the Socio-Political context in the Nikayas. The Nikayas clearly point to a time period before not only Ashoka, but also Chandragupta. This is mentioned in the book called 'The Authenticity of the Early Buddhist Texts' by Bhikkhu Sujato and Bhikkhu Brahmali. The book also makes a very reasonable case for the Originality of Buddha.

Then, you might ask, 'Where did Buddha learn ideas like Impermanence, Non Self etc' ? Well, he learnt a lot from other Indians of his time. Not all of his ideas are Original. 2 of them, that I mentioned above, namely, Impermanence and Non Self, existed in India before him, although in a slightly different form. Yajnavalkya was a Vedic Philosopher, who lived before Buddha. Many works are credited to him. 2 of them are Impermanence and 'Neti Neti'. Neti Neti is an epistemic doctrine that means 'Not this not this'. Now, Yajnavalkya observed the impermanent nature of reality. He realised that Human Beings are just like that, as they keep changing. So, he went on a Quest, to find a Permanent Self in humans, by renouncing worldly life. Sound Buddhist to you ? Well, not exactly. He concluded that there is something about human beings that does not change. The Soul ! Buddha, however, seems to have rejected this. He might have learnt about Impermanence from other Indians, but he rejected the Soul. This is evident in the Nikayas, where he says that 'The All' is just the 5 Senses and the Mind. Also, one of his famous sayings is 'Not I, Not Me, Not Myself'. Does this remind you of something ? Yajnavalkya's Neti Neti ! However, unlike Yajnavalkya, Buddha went all the way. He rejected Atman and that's why, we have his famous idea of 'Not Self', which is one of 'The 3 Marks of Existence' (the other 2 being Impermanence and Suffering).

So, you see, it is extremely unlikely that India imported Non Dualism from Greece. It goes back, at the very least, to Buddha ...
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