The Shape of Ancient Thought

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The Shape of Ancient Thought

Postby Dronma » Fri Feb 08, 2013 2:26 am

Thomas McEvilley on 'The Shape of Ancient Thought'

"A revolutionary study by the classical philologist and art historian Thomas McEvilley is about to challenge much of academia. In THE SHAPE OF ANCIENT THOUGHT, an empirical study of the roots of Western culture, the author argues that Eastern and Western civilizations have not always had separate, autonomous metaphysical schemes, but have mutually influenced each other over a long period of time.



The historic meeting of Greek and Indian/Buddhist culture!
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Re: The Shape of Ancient Thought

Postby Indrajala » Fri Feb 08, 2013 3:10 am

I've been meaning to read that book.

I think once I get to Nepal next month I'll look for an Indian edition of it. They're a lot cheaper.

Incidentally, the proof is in the pudding when it comes to astrology. You see the pan-Eurasian influences especially in Buddhist literature.
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Re: The Shape of Ancient Thought

Postby Dronma » Sat Jun 08, 2013 9:24 pm

Consider the Source: Why was Hercules the Buddha’s first guardian?

Image

The connection between early Western and Eastern civilizations is far more intimate than most people realize. Indeed, the earliest depictions of the Buddha, from the area around ancient Gandhara in Pakistan, depict him like the statue of a Greek god. Greek culture and influence remained in the areas of Afghanistan and northern India long after Alexander the Great conquered the region; the large Greek population retained the art and philosophy of ancient Greece while marrying into the local population. A beautiful early example of Gandharan art shows the Buddha protected by a hovering Herakles, the Greek hero who the Romans called Hercules.

In his book "The Shape of Ancient Thought", the late scholar Thomas McEvilley details astonishing parallels between ancient Greek and Indian philosophy and spirituality. The similarities in outlook between Socrates and Plato on the one hand, and Upanishad-derived beliefs on the other, are far too great to put down to coincidence. For example, McEvilley describes what he calls the “tripartite doctrine of reincarnation” that held sway amongst philosophers and spiritual leaders in both Greece and India, an idea that played a key role in Buddhism’s outlook and development. He calls it “tripartite” because it contains three key parts: 1) the process of reincarnation, or rebirth; 2) the moral laws governing this process; and 3) the goal of escape from the cycle. McEvilley points out that while belief in reincarnation is found in some form in many cultures, this particular three-aspect set of beliefs was unique, indicating a clear link between the two regions.

Plato, who wrote in detail about this process of reincarnation, was the teacher of Aristotle, who in turn was the tutor of Alexander the Great. Alexander’s conquests in south Asia may have cemented an already long cultural relationship between East and West. Thereafter, Greeks in south Asia embraced Buddhism, and Indians and Greeks both nurtured the religion’s development. Ashoka the Great’s famous monuments, from which we know of his Buddhist empire, were even sometimes written in Greek.

Early Mahayana Buddhism developed in the area where Greek and Indian civilizations came together. I mentioned in a previous blog that early statues at the Dunhuang caves show Gandharan influence. Although the textual evidence of exactly how Buddhism developed in that ancient cultural melting pot are frustratingly absent, the artistic record reveals a profound coming together of East and West in those ancient times.

—Andy Ferguson


http://www.tricycle.com/blog/consider-source-why-was-hercules-buddhas-first-guardian
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Re: The Shape of Ancient Thought

Postby MalaBeads » Sat Jun 08, 2013 11:31 pm

Dronma,

Greece was on the ancient Silk Road so its no surprise to me that Buddhist influence would be found there. Btw, the first Buddhist center I practiced with had Gandarvan statues so I am no stranger to them.
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Re: The Shape of Ancient Thought

Postby Dronma » Sun Jun 09, 2013 12:30 am

Hi MalaBeads,
I am glad that you are familiar with the art of Gandhara. :smile:

The following links can enlighten more the relation of ancient Greek philosophy, art, and cosmotheory with the early rising of Buddhism.

1) "Pyrrhonism - How the Ancient Greeks Reinvented Buddhism" by Adrian Kuzminski.
http://www.e-reading-lib.org/bookreader.php/134630/Pyrrhonism.pdf

2) "The Debate of King Milinda" by Bhikkhu Pesala ("Milinda Panha" or "Milindapañhā" in Pali). The earliest part of the text is believed to have been written between 100 BCE and 200 CE. It is written in the form of a dialogue in which the Indo-Greek king Menander I (Milinda in Pali) of Bactria, who reigned in the 2nd century BCE, poses questions on Buddhism to the sage Nāgasena.
http://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/milinda.pdf

3) Greco-Buddhism or Graeco-Buddhism:

"The first anthropomorphic representations of the Buddha himself are often considered a result of the Greco-Buddhist interaction. Before this innovation, Buddhist art was "aniconic": the Buddha was only represented through his symbols (an empty throne, the Bodhi tree, the Buddha's footprints, the Dharma wheel)."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greco-Buddhism

4) Greco-Buddhist art:

"Greco-Buddhist art is characterized by the strong idealistic realism and sensuous description of Hellenistic art and the first representations of the Buddha in human form, which have helped define the artistic (and particularly, sculptural) canon for Buddhist art throughout the Asian continent up to the present. It is also a strong example of cultural syncretism between eastern and western traditions.
The origins of Greco-Buddhist art are to be found in the Hellenistic Greco-Bactrian kingdom (250 BCE- 130 BCE), located in today’s Afghanistan, from which Hellenistic culture radiated into the Indian subcontinent with the establishment of the Indo-Greek kingdom (180 BCE-10 BCE). Under the Indo-Greeks and then the Kushans, the interaction of Greek and Buddhist culture flourished in the area of Gandhara, in today’s northern Pakistan, before spreading further into India, influencing the art of Mathura, and then the Hindu art of the Gupta empire, which was to extend to the rest of South-East Asia. The influence of Greco-Buddhist art also spread northward towards Central Asia, strongly affecting the art of the Tarim Basin, and ultimately the arts of China, Korea, and Japan."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greco-Buddhist_art


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Head of Buddha, stucco, Hadda, Afghanistan, 1st-2nd century CE.
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Re: The Shape of Ancient Thought

Postby Wayfarer » Sun Jun 09, 2013 2:17 am

I bought McEvilly's book in 2009 and am a great admirer of it. It is a very substantial piece of work with huge detail. During my subsequent completion of a Buddhist Studies degree, I discovered that his book is hardly known in academic Buddhist circles, soi don't know what the scholars in that field would think of it, but I find it a fascinating gold mine of ideas - especially for students of Buddhism with Platonist leanings.
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Re: The Shape of Ancient Thought

Postby tingdzin » Sun Jun 09, 2013 3:45 am

There are difficulties in knowing what the ancient Greeks meant in the passages that are believed to speak about "reincarnation", as the meanings of the various mentational concepts that have come down to us from the Greeks, e.g. "psyche" and "nous", seem not to have been firmly fixed even in Aristotle's time. Good introductions to this subject can be found in Adkins' "The Greeks and the Irrational" and Jaynes' "Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind". For that matter, has anyone ever attempted to trace the historical development of Indian mentational terms before Buddhism? Such a project would seem worthwhile, if quite challenging.
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Re: The Shape of Ancient Thought

Postby Dronma » Sun Jun 09, 2013 5:35 pm

I am not a scholar, but since I have received a good education in Greek during this lifetime, I can say a few words about the meanings of "psyche" and "nous" in ancient and modern Greek language.
Psyche (ψυχή) etymologically means breath, blow (ανάσα, πνοή), hence it can indicate the prana energy.
Nous (νους) is definitely mind.
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Re: The Shape of Ancient Thought

Postby tingdzin » Sun Jun 09, 2013 11:56 pm

Indeed, and I must say that I know no Greek. However, nowadays, "psyche" is taken into English as meaning "mind", and the connection with breath is forgotten. It is also translated as "soul" in some renderings of Aristotle, and that English word is truly slippery in etymology and meaning. And when you use "mind" to translate nous, what aspect of mind do you mean? I have one source that says that, early on, nous connoted the notion of rational and abstract thought, while emotion and will were denoted by thumos.

What I am getting at is that, if psyche can mean "breath", "mind", or "soul", what does it really mean to say that the ancient Greeks believed in rebirth? What was it that Plato thought passed from life to life, for example?

The issues are far more complex than popular culture histories care to admit.
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Re: The Shape of Ancient Thought

Postby Dronma » Mon Jun 10, 2013 2:39 am

I am sorry to say that the transfer of Greek philosophical terms to English is not always correct.
Psyche is definitely irrelevant with mind.
Moreover, I would say that psyche cannot be translated as soul either. Since psyche is connected exclusively with breathing.
See the etymological differences here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soul#Etymology
For example in Greek when somebody is dying we say that psyche came out of him, which means he left his last breath away.

The meaning of "nous" is similar to the meaning of "mind" in Buddhism.

About reincarnation, I'd ask the same question that the Greek king Menander asked the Buddhist sage Nàgasena: “If there is no soul, what is it that is reborn?".
See for the relevant passage in the dialogue of "Milindapañhā".
Although I'd put it like this: "If there is no ego, what is it that is reborn?" or "He who is reborn, is he the same person or another?".
Last edited by Dronma on Mon Jun 10, 2013 2:59 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The Shape of Ancient Thought

Postby Wayfarer » Mon Jun 10, 2013 2:50 am

This question is certainly reborn generation after generation. There can be no disputing that. Beyond that, you get into the 'soul vs no-soul in Buddhism' debate, which is a certain way to have a thread locked very quickly.
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Re: The Shape of Ancient Thought

Postby tingdzin » Mon Jun 10, 2013 5:20 pm

<To whom it may concern: This thread is not about the question of whether or not Buddhism posits a "soul"; it is hopefully at least two layers deeper than that, so please do not sidetrack it.>

Very interesting, Dronma. Is psyche still used this way in modern Greek? Your citation of the Milindapanha makes one wonder if the king and the monk could really understand each other. I have noticed that in modern Tibetan and Thai Buddhism, orthodox opinion has it that it is the vinnana (sorry no diacritics, Tibetan nam par shes pa) that continues from life to life -- but each of these traditions has at least one other word which (inadequately) gets translated into English as "soul". When Greek Christianity talks about something going to heaven or hell and suffering pain or enjoying pleasure, what word would they use?

As far as nous, the English word "mind" is used to translate a lot of different Buddhist words, with fine shades of meaning. When the
Dharma is translated into Greek, has there developed a vocabulary to reflect this, or do the translators use Indic terms with explanations?

If you find this inquiry irrelevant or boring, feel free not to respond.
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Re: The Shape of Ancient Thought

Postby Dronma » Mon Jun 10, 2013 11:34 pm

Tingdzin, psyche and nous have still the same meanings in modern Greek. In fact, Greek has been alive through the centuries with only minor alterations.
Of course, that does not mean all Greeks are aware of the depth of this language. And what I am saying here is mostly through the filter of my own understanding and experience.
So, I am not an expert of Christianity, but since I was raised into an Orthodox Christian family, as far as I remember they say that psyche is the immortal part of being and it is what is going to heaven or hell. Christians and common people consider nous to be only the intellectual part of cognition (gnosis - γνώση). So, Orthodox Christians do not give so much importance to nous, since it is related mainly to the material level of being. Psyche is the vehicle to salvation.

About the translations of Dharma in Greek, I have a little experience while attempting in the past to translate a few texts from English. We mainly use the Greek terms, quoting also the Tibetan or Sanskrit for further studying. For example, mind is translated as nous, although some older people translate mind as pneuma (πνεῦμα), which in English is spirit, ghost or soul. Obviously, under the influence of the Christian terminology: holy spirit/ghost.
Pneuma has common etymological root as psyche, they are both related with "breathing" or "blow" (αναπνοή, πνοή, πνέω). However, psyche is totally absent from the Greek Buddhist vocabulary until today.
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Re: The Shape of Ancient Thought

Postby tingdzin » Tue Jun 11, 2013 7:03 pm

Thanks for your taking the trouble. This srtuff is interesting to me.
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Re: The Shape of Ancient Thought

Postby Dronma » Tue Jun 11, 2013 8:06 pm

You are welcome! :smile:

tingdzin wrote:As far as nous, the English word "mind" is used to translate a lot of different Buddhist words, with fine shades of meaning.

I am also interested to know more about it.
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Re: The Shape of Ancient Thought

Postby Adamantine » Wed Jun 12, 2013 1:45 am

Actually the author recently passed away. He was
a really interesting man and writer and there's some cool
stories about him in this summer's Artforum magazine, of which
he was a regular contributer over decades. It seems he
would go on extended silent retreats so maybe he was
a practicing Buddhist, at least a meditator..

Anyway we should dedicate some practice to his transition...
Especially if we benefit from his writing!
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Re: The Shape of Ancient Thought

Postby dzogchungpa » Wed Jun 12, 2013 1:59 am

Dronma wrote:I am not a scholar, but since I have received a good education in Greek during this lifetime, I can say a few words about the meanings of "psyche" and "nous" in ancient and modern Greek language.
Psyche (ψυχή) etymologically means breath, blow (ανάσα, πνοή), hence it can indicate the prana energy.
Nous (νους) is definitely mind.

http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=atman
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Re: The Shape of Ancient Thought

Postby Adamantine » Wed Jun 12, 2013 3:37 am

Contentment is the ultimate wealth;
Detachment is the final happiness. ~Sri Saraha
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Re: The Shape of Ancient Thought

Postby Dronma » Wed Jul 17, 2013 8:27 pm




Gandharan Civilization was based in present day northern Pakistan and eastern Afghanistan, but its direct influence stretched from Central Asia to northwest India.

Gandhara was a part of Vedic, Persian, Greek, Bactrian, Scythian, Parthian, Kushan, Hephthalite, and other kingdoms/empires. It became a melting pot of Indo-Aryan, Iranian, Greek, and other cultures/peoples.

Buddhism was popular in Gandhara along with Hellenic beliefs, Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, Mithraism, Shaivism, and Vedic beliefs.

Buddhism spread to east/northeast Asia from Gandhara via missionaries and traders using the Silk Road. Gandhara's location in the middle of the Silk Road also invited other cultures.

Gandhara was famous for its world class universities such as the one in Taxila where medicine, religion, sciences, literature, and arts were taught.

Gandhara's other contributions include the first linguistic system of grammar (Panini), the highly admired style of Greco-Buddhist arts, transmission of the concept of zero to the Arab world, and much more ...

Greek, Aramaic, Sanskrit, Old Persian, and Prakrits (local languages) such as Gandhari (written in Kharoshti script) were the spoken/written languages in Gandhara.

Despite becoming mostly Muslim, the Gandharan legacy lives on with the continuation of many aspects of culture, arts, traditions, etc. in present day Pakistan, Afghanistan, and beyond.
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Re: The Shape of Ancient Thought

Postby Wayfarer » Thu Jul 18, 2013 1:44 am

Although it would seem to me that the region was arguably more culturally advanced 2,000 years ago than it is now. The name 'Gandhara' is preserved in the name of the Kandahar region of Afghanistan - but if you search for 'Kandahar' in current news, most of the stories concern suicide bombings, military assaults, drone strikes, and the like. Very sad.
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