Buddhism in Iran in pre-islamic times

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Aemilius
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Buddhism in Iran in pre-islamic times

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Passages from a dictionary article about Buddhism in pre-islamic times in what is now Iran:

"Sorḵ Kotal. East of the main caravan route is the renowned site of Sorḵ Kotal (Surkh Kotal), the ancient Baḡlān mentioned by Hsüan-tsang (Beal, I, p. 43). It was here that the first major Kushan inscription was found written in the Northeast Iranian language that is nowadays called Bactrian. The inscription con­cerns the restoration of the sanctuary founded there by Kanishka, the famous Kushan ruler, under whose patronage Buddhism flourished. The site seems to have no Buddhist connections, but like Buddhist sites else­where it seems to have suffered from the attacks of the Sasanians in the 3rd century. It may have been the site of a dynastic cult or of an unusual Buddhist sect.

"Nowbahār. It has been suggested that the term “Nowbahār,” a Persian form of Sanskrit nava-vihāra “new temple,” may designate the sites of a specifically Iranian Buddhist sect (Bulliet; see also ii, below). The most famous Nowbahār was at Balḵ, but the name is attested as far north as Bukhara and Samarkand and as far west as beyond Hamadān. As long as it is not known exactly what significance the term had, it would be inadvi­sable to conclude from its attestation alone that the sites associated with it were important centers or Buddhism.

"Buddhism in western Iran. As for the westward extension of Buddhism it is still not clear how far to the west Buddhism penetrated. On the basis of archeology it had been inferred that it never flourished west of the line joining Balḵ to Qandahār, the so-called “Foucher line,” named after the famous French archeologist (Foucher, I, pp. 155-57; II, pp. 281-82). After Zoroastrianism had become the official religion of the Sasanians in a.d. 224, other religions, including šamans and brahmans (i.e., Buddhists and Hindus) were not tolerated, as we know from the inscriptions of the priest Kartīr (Back, p. 415). Consequently it is only to be expected that the main expansion of Buddhism should have been eastward rather than westward. Neverthe­less, the Russian discovery of a Buddhist stūpa at Gyaur Kala near Bagram-ʿAlī more than 400 km west of Balḵ in the Marv oasis was thought to have disproved the Foucher hypothesis (Koshelenko). However, even if there were isolated instances of Buddhist communities farther west, the main thesis that Buddhism flourished predominantly in the east seems unassailable. Even in the case of Gyaur Kala, it appears that the building of the stūpa was interrupted in the 3rd century and that it was destroyed in the 5th (Litvinsky, p. 29).

"The demise of Buddhism among Iranian peoples. Buddhism was flourishing more in Khotan than in India by the 10th century, from which period most of the surviving Khotanese literature comes. But it is not likely to have persisted long after the Muslim invasion at the beginning of the 11th century, when the capital at Yotqan, near the modern city of Ho-tien, was abandoned (Barthold, Turkestan2, p. 281; Grenard, pp. 5-79; Samolin, pp. 80-82). According to Marco Polo, who visited Khotan in the 13th century, all the inhabitants were Muslims (Yule, I, p. 188).

"Buddhism seems to have survived longest in Qočō, an early haven of Buddhism, where it continued long after it had disappeared from most of Chinese and western Turkestan. Even in a.d. 1420 there were reportedly Buddhists and great temples in Qočō (Pelliot, 1959, p. 164).

"In the west Buddhism suffered a serious setback at the hands of the Sasanians during the 3rd century, but although the Buddhists were persecuted and many of their sanctuaries were burned, they survived to a much later period. At such places as Bāmīān they were still active as late as the 8th or 9th centuries. "

the whole article https://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/buddhism-i
svaha
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Sarvē mānavāḥ svatantrāḥ samutpannāḥ vartantē api ca, gauravadr̥śā adhikāradr̥śā ca samānāḥ ēva vartantē. Ētē sarvē cētanā-tarka-śaktibhyāṁ susampannāḥ santi. Api ca, sarvē’pi bandhutva-bhāvanayā parasparaṁ vyavaharantu."
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1. (in english and sanskrit)
tingdzin
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Re: Buddhism in Iran in pre-islamic times

Post by tingdzin »

Most of these locations are not in what is now modern Iran, but rather Afghanistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and the modern Xinjiang. They did formerly speak languages in the Iranian family in these areas, though. Mahayana was the dominant form of Buddhism in Khotan before it was in India.
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Aemilius
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Re: Buddhism in Iran in pre-islamic times

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Thanks, you are right. But in the past there was the Empire of Parthia,

Image

And later there were the Mongols:

"Ilkhanid realm was officially known as the land of Iran or simply Iran. Ilkhanate under Hulagu Khan embraced Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism while tolerant to religious diversity, which enabled Buddhism to remain the official religion of the empire till 1295. During this period, Buddhist temples were constructed throughout the kingdom. Additionally, small Buddhist communities settled throughout the Ilkhanate realm, mainly originating from Kashmir and East Turkestan.
Later, Ilkhanate ruler Ghazan, who was raised as Nestorian Christian and received Buddhist education in his youth, converted to Islam in 1295 AD and made it the state religion of the Ilkhanate. He also prohibited the practice of Buddhism, but allowed monks to go into exile into neighboring Buddhist regions."

"In 2002, 19 Gandharan style Buddhist statues were unearthed in the southern Iranian province of Fars."

Prazniak, Roxann (2014). "Ilkhanid Buddhism: Traces of a Passage in Eurasian History". Comparative Studies in Society and History.
and "Statues in Iran challenge theories on Buddhism's spread". The Japan Times, 2002.
svaha
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Sarvē mānavāḥ svatantrāḥ samutpannāḥ vartantē api ca, gauravadr̥śā adhikāradr̥śā ca samānāḥ ēva vartantē. Ētē sarvē cētanā-tarka-śaktibhyāṁ susampannāḥ santi. Api ca, sarvē’pi bandhutva-bhāvanayā parasparaṁ vyavaharantu."
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1. (in english and sanskrit)
tingdzin
Posts: 1915
Joined: Fri Feb 15, 2013 7:19 am

Re: Buddhism in Iran in pre-islamic times

Post by tingdzin »

It has been claimed that Buddhism was not important in Parthia, but Buddhist words from Northwestern Prakrit entered the literature of the Manichaeans in Parthia. And one art historian says that much of the early Buddhist art in China is based on Parthian motifs. There was evidently a second, Sarvastivadin, Sanskritic wave of Buddhism centuries later. Some indications of Buddhism have been found in former Parthian domains, but archaeological research there has stagnated.
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Aemilius
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Re: Buddhism in Iran in pre-islamic times

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Hello! Have you heard about this interesting find? It has been around some years now, but is still relatively unkown among buddhists.

"The family crest bore the etching of a crown-headed king flanked by two totems, each a standing bird-headed winged lion. The Seal of Sedda depiction of a Sramana (Persepolis Seal PFS 79), a Lion-Sun shaman, is based on information gathered from a number of other seals the name refers to Sedda Arta (Siddhartha), i.e., Siddha (Liberator of) and Arta (Universal Truth).

Analysis of Seals PFS 79, PFS 796 and PF 250 found among the collection of important seals in Persepolis, the Persian capital of Emperor Darius I, are purported to be the Gautama family according to an interpretation by Dr. Ranajit Pal (The Dawn of Religions in Afghanistan-Seistan-Gandhara and the Personal Seals of Gotama Buddha and Zoroaster, published in Mithras Reader: An Academic and Religious Journal of Greek, Roman and Persian Studies. Vol. III, London, 2010, pg. 62).

The twin guardians each had the body of lion and the head and wings of a mythic sunbird (i.e., Egyptian Sun-bearing falcon). The lion and falcon-gryphon motifs represented a pair of Sramana shamans. Therefore, the family seal associated with Gautama, described a royal person of the Arya-Vedic tradition.

A similar image of Buddhist iconography shows a Buddha seated on a “lion-throne” under a bejeweled tree with cosmic aides at his side. The Buddhist montage declares his enlightenment under the cosmic Sacred Tree of Illumination.

The inscriptions refer to a religious figure named “Gaumâta,” from whom the Achaemenid Persian Emperor, Darius the Great, seized the throne in Babylon. Darius painted “Gaumâta” an imposter and illegal ruler, although the description does not seem to fit the highly educated and beloved leader. Darius identified him as a Magi (practitioner of esoteric knowledge), and sardonically labeled him as a “stargazer.” If the name “Gaumâta” referred to Siddhartha Gautama, this reference would mean that he held a key leadership position in the Magi Order. Moreover, as the headquarters of the Magi was in the temple complex of Esagila, home of the ziggurat tower dubbed “House of the Raised Head,” the designation of “stargazer” suggests that Gautama was involved with Babylon’s star observatory.

Could it be that Siddhartha Gautama was the mysterious King “Gaumâta”?

The name “Gaumâta” appears to be a variant of Gautama, the Buddha’s family name. In the ancient multilingual land of Babylonia, multiple names and titles with spelling variations referring to the same person were common.

Does evidence of the Babylonian Magi Order’s influences appear in Buddhist literature? Could we discover Mesopotamian references in the Buddhist scriptures?"

from https://ghorbany.com/inspiration/ancien ... ame-buddha

The information comes from the book ' The Buddha from Babylon: The Lost History and Cosmic Vision of Siddhartha Gautama’ by Harvey Kraft, 2014.
svaha
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Sarvē mānavāḥ svatantrāḥ samutpannāḥ vartantē api ca, gauravadr̥śā adhikāradr̥śā ca samānāḥ ēva vartantē. Ētē sarvē cētanā-tarka-śaktibhyāṁ susampannāḥ santi. Api ca, sarvē’pi bandhutva-bhāvanayā parasparaṁ vyavaharantu."
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1. (in english and sanskrit)
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Aemilius
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Re: Buddhism in Iran in pre-islamic times

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According to Etienne Lamotte (in his History of Indian Buddhism) there are traditional sources which say that Buddha went personally to the North-West. Lamotte regards these stories apocryphal, but tells them anyway. The sources are things like Avadanas, MulaSarvastivada Vinaya, Upadesa, etc.. some of which are Canonical texts. A list of them at the bottom.

Lamotte writes on pages 679... 680:

"Gandhara claimed to have been the setting of former lives of the Bodhisattva; now it is claimed that Sakyamuni went there in person. Of all the apocryphal journeys attributed to the Buddha, the most notable is the one he is supposed to have undertaken in North-West India.

The first part, made in the company of Ananda, consisted of six stages : Hastinapura (former Kuru capital), Mahanagara, Srughna (District of Sugh), Brahmanagrama (on the western border of Madhyadesa), Kalanagara and finally Rohitaka, on the eastern bank of the Indus. No outstanding event marked this part of the itinerary.

Leaving Ananda in Rohitaka, the Buddha continued on his way in the company of the Yaksa Vajrapani, his compulsory bodyguard in the western districts. The second part of the journey was made through Uddiyana and Gandhara, and consisted of no less than sixteen stops. Having crossed the Indus at Udabhanda (Und), the Buddha went through the Shahkot pass near the ‘Monastery of the Rsi (EkaSringa)’, ascended the left bank of the Swat to its source and tamed the dragon Apalala. Retracing his steps, he reached Dhanyapura or Mangalapura (Manglaor), where he converted the mother of King Uttarasena. Four further stages southwards brought him close to Nagarahara (Jelalabad) : in Palitakuta, he converted the dragons Gopalaka and Uccataka and left his shadow in their cave; that ‘Cave of the Shadow’, as it is called, was a centre of pilgrimage for centuries.

 Reaching the Indus in short stages, the Buddha also stopped in Nandivardhana, between Jalalabad and Peshawar; there he converted King Bhavadeva and, in a pool near the town, left an image (pratima) of himself for the dragons Ashvaka and Punarvasuka. At Kharjurika, a small village south of Peshawar, the Buddha announced to Vajrapani that ‘four hundred years after his Nirvana, King Kaniska of the Kusana dynasty will build on that spot a stupa which will be known by the name of the Stupa of Kaniska’ : this monument was discovered in 1908 in the tumuli at Shah-ji-ki Dheri; it contained the famous reliquary of Kaniska. Crossing the Indus again, the Buddha returned to Rohitaka, thus ending the second part of his journey.

After three days’ rest, he continued on his way in the company of Ananda and, by stages, reached the town of Mathura, visiting on the way the localities of Adirajya and Bhadrashva : these were probably the two Alexandrian establishments on the Jhelum: Nicaea-on-the-Hydaspes and Bucephala, but the Buddhist tradition connects them with the memory of the legendary king Mahasammata.

b. In the course of a journey to Kashmir, the Buddha won over the rsi Revata (in Chinese, Li yiieh or Li po t’o). In honour of his guest, the latter erected a stupa containing some hair and nail clippings of the Buddha, as well as the large monastery of the Saila Vihara, not far from Biratha, the capital. The Arhat-bhiksu Revata is well-known in the Kasmiri legend: he was accused of having stolen an ox and was thrown into prison; one of his disciples freed him and, to punish the Kasmirians for such a high-handed accusation, buried their capital under a shower of ash.

c. At the invitation of Purna and his brother, the Buddha, with five hundred disciples, flew to the port of Surparaka, the capital of Northern Konkan. He stayed in the sandalwood pavilion built specially for him by Purna; on his return, he converted the dragons of the Narmada and left the imprint of his feet on the banks of the river."


 "(67) On the journey to the North-West, the main sources are the Legend of Asoka (Divya, p. 348; T 99, ch. 23, p. 1655; T 2042, ch. 1, p. 1026; T 2043, ch. 2, p. 1355); the Milasarv. Vin. (Gilgit Manuscripts, III, part 1, pp. xvu-xvim, 1-17; T 1448, ch. 9-10, pp. 37c-43c; tr. by J. Przyluski, JA, 1914, pp. 495-522); the Upadesa, T 1509, ch. 9, p. 1266, tr. by E. La Morte, Traité, I, pp. 547 sq.; the Avadanakalpalata, ch. 54-57 (ed. S.C. Das, II, pp. 110-51); the Memoirs of the Chinese pilgrims, Fa hsien (T 2085, p. 858a); Sung Yiin (T 2092, ch. 5, p. 1020a); Hsuan tsang (T 2087, ch. 3, p. 882c sq.). See also BEFEO, XXIV, 1924, pp. 36-43; XLIV, 1951, pp. 152-8; C. Soper, Aspects of Light Symbolism in Gandharan Sculpture, Artibus Asiae, XII, 1949, pp. 252-83, 314-30; XHI, 1950, pp. 63-85  

(68) On Revata or Revataka, see Divya, p. 399 (cf. T 99, ch. 23, p. 169a-b; T 2042, ch. 2, p. 105a; T 2043, ch. 3, p. 139c); Chiu tsa p’i yi ching, T 206, ch. 1, p. 516a; Tsa pao tsang ching, T 203, ch. 2, p. 457b; Vibhasa, T 1545, ch. 125, pp. 654c-655b; Upadesa, T 1509, ch. 9, p. 126c; Avadanakalpalata, ch. 105 (ed. S.C. Das, II, p. 979).

(69) On the journey to South India at Purna’s invitation, see Divya, pp. 46-55; Mulasarv. Vin., T 1448, ch. 3, pp. 146 23-17a 21; Majjhima Comm., V, pp. 90-2; Samyutta Comm., II, pp. 378-9. "
svaha
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Sarvē mānavāḥ svatantrāḥ samutpannāḥ vartantē api ca, gauravadr̥śā adhikāradr̥śā ca samānāḥ ēva vartantē. Ētē sarvē cētanā-tarka-śaktibhyāṁ susampannāḥ santi. Api ca, sarvē’pi bandhutva-bhāvanayā parasparaṁ vyavaharantu."
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1. (in english and sanskrit)
tingdzin
Posts: 1915
Joined: Fri Feb 15, 2013 7:19 am

Re: Buddhism in Iran in pre-islamic times

Post by tingdzin »

Gaumata was definitely a different person than Gautama. Although Christopher Beckwith has theorized that Siddhartha Gautama was of a sort of Iranian descent (i.e. Saka), even he does not seem to think that he or his clan was active in Babylon/ Western Iran. I haven't read Harvey Kraft's book, but the article he has posted on academia. edu is pretty flimsy, weak from a scholarly viewpoint, and very speculative, so I don't imagine that his book is much more substantial.

On the other hand, Gandhara was part of the Achaemenian (Persian) Empire for 200 years, and absorbed a lot of Iranian cultural influence during that time. even the development of the alphabets used in India was stimulated by Achaemenian bureaucracy. Gandhara was very important to Buddhism, from the time of the Sakas and Kushans right up to a major Hindu expansion into the area. The story cited in Lamotte that Sakyamuni himself traveled to that area (as well as to the Konkan and Sri Lanka) is probably mythical rather than strictly historical (canonical texts are sometimes useful in examining history, but can't be taken at face value). .
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Aemilius
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Re: Buddhism in Iran in pre-islamic times

Post by Aemilius »

Thanks!
It seems quite certain that Buddha Gautama and the people in India knew about the life and customs in Parthia/Persia/Achaemenid Empire.

There is a sutta in which Buddha even refers to the Country of Yonakas, i.e. Greece. He says that in the Country Yonakas there are only two castes and that this shows that the four castes are a human invention and are not absolute.

In some suttas the religious beliefs and customs of the Brahamans of the Western Land are mentioned. I am sure that this refers to the Achaemenid Empire (or Ancient Persia).

For example: : To Cunda the Silversmith, AN 10.176 and Paccha-bhumika Sutta: [Brahmans] of the Western Land, SN 42.6.

Accordins to scholars like Asko Parpola there are cunei form texts that refer to import from the Indus Valley Civilisation.

There is also a story in the Divya Avadana about merchants who travel to a rather fantastical trading centre situated in the western direction from India.

Image

The Achaemenid Empire at its greatest territorial extent, under the rule of Darius the Great (522–486 BC)
svaha
"All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.
They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Sarvē mānavāḥ svatantrāḥ samutpannāḥ vartantē api ca, gauravadr̥śā adhikāradr̥śā ca samānāḥ ēva vartantē. Ētē sarvē cētanā-tarka-śaktibhyāṁ susampannāḥ santi. Api ca, sarvē’pi bandhutva-bhāvanayā parasparaṁ vyavaharantu."
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 1. (in english and sanskrit)
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