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Eisennagel

When Buddha and Hercules walked together...

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This bit of history has been blowing my mind for some days now, a bit of history that is fundamentally important to decisive to how it affected religions in the East, yet people don't seem to know much about.  

 

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It all began when Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire and spread the Hellenistic world to Central Asia as far as Afghanistan and northern India.   The Greek migration to the East was itself helped by the Persian Empire for a long period of time when they exiled Greeks from their territories to the eastern regions, which led to the armies of Alexander discovering to their surprise, large numbers of Greek settlements and diaspora in those regions.  And we know what happened to Alexander's empire, how it split up, how the generals set up separate kingdoms and fought each other.  To make a long story short, the easternmost components of the Hellenistic world that Alexander created became the Greco-Bactrian and the Indo-Greek kingdoms.  Even as they married into the local population, the descendants retained their Greek culture and identity.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greco-Buddhism

 

The historical Buddha, Sakyamuni, was said to be have been lived around the time when the Achaemenid (Persian) Empire invaded India under Darius I.    This would have introduced the Persian religions such as the monotheistic Zoroastrianism which Buddhism might have interacted and reacted against.   By the time Alexander the Great invaded northern India, the Greeks would have encountered what were already early elements of Buddhism at the time in both the cultural and religious dimension.  

 

The Mauryan Empire reconquered northern India from the Greeks, and one of their emperors, Ashoka, became a fervent convert of Buddhism and wished to spread his faith across his large empire.   From this point, the Greek communities in northern India became converted to Buddhism.    More than just being "forced" into Buddhism, the Greeks embraced the religion wholeheartedly and with great fervor, leading to a great age of Greek Buddhist evangelist monks.   These monks played an important role in the spread of Buddhism throughout Asia.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greco-Buddhist_monasticism

 

The Greek Buddhists were the first Buddhists to depict and sculpt Buddha with a human form, with a distinctive Greek style of art.   And for this, they created this human image of Buddha that remains to this day even in Chinese and Japanese temples.  While the appearance has been stylized by the native culture the further east it gets, it remains distinctive from native forms of Chinese and Japanese art.   The Greek Buddhists also depict the use of various Greek gods as guardian deities to the Buddha, the most prominent example being that of Hercules.   This tradition of guardian deities continues on to Buddhism in China and Japan, where Hercules becomes transformed into Vajrapani, becoming the Nio in Japan.

 

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Greek philosophy also had an influence to the development of the Mahayana school of Buddhism, which became the Chan or Zen Buddhism that dominates the type of Buddhism in China, Korea and Japan.  This Buddhism includes the Shaolin.  Tibetan Buddhism represents another school as well as the Monastic or Theravada Buddhism that dominates southeast Asia like Thailand and Cambodia.  

 

The Mauryans fought wars against the Seleucids, which also created a channel of religious and cultural interaction that seeped Buddhism into the Greek world.  The Bactrians, an important province of the Seleucids, revolted and established their own kingdom as the Greco-Bactrian.  The Greco-Bactrians invaded northern India and established the Indo-Greek kingdom there.    One of the great kings of the Indo-Greek kingdom, Menander I, become a convert to Buddhism, and further spread the faith.

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Menander_I

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greco-Buddhism

 

How far did the Greek Buddhists spread?  It was said there was contact right into the Mediterranean, where some were buried in Alexandria.   There was awareness of Buddhism in Greece and Rome, including references to the Dharmic Wheel and the Swastika, although the Swastika is also an important symbol for Jainism and Hinduism.   The leaders of the early Christians were aware of the existence of Buddhists.  How much did the Buddhists spread their values to the Roman Empire and to Western Civilization, and which now, are now deeply embedded into our values.  


Greek style coinage depicting Buddha, here as "Boddo" in Greek letters.

 

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Around this time, a new force arose and this one from the East.  The Han Dynasty sent envoys to the west of its empire in search of prized "heavenly horses" that they could use to help defeat the Xiongnu (Proto-Hun) peoples in the north.   Rejected by the Yuezhi, these envoys discovered Greco-Bactrian enclaves, creating the first contact between the Chinese and the Greeks.  To make a long story short, the Han Dynasty sent expeditions to the area to get those horses, and in so doing, subdued those populations and set up encampments, extending the Han Dynasty to Central Asia.  The Hans got more than they bargained for, as this route became the backbone of the Silk Road, bringing silk and trade between the East and the Western civilizations.  And it was certainly a lot more than what they bargained for, as this route, also became the passage route for Greco-Buddhist monks to travel into China and spread the religion there, establishing the Greco branch of Buddhism --- the Mahayana --- as the dominant Buddhist school in China, which then spread to Korea and Japan.

 

And this blows my mind to how far Buddha and Hercules walked together across the world and changed history.

 

Edited by Eisennagel
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Alpha Tester
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It goes to show that the world is never as large and disconnected as it may seem sometimes.

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When Buddha and Hercules walked together...

Hercules lacked the strength to carry that potato team they had, 

and Buddha lost patience with them.

 

Even they don't play randoms on the weekend anymore

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29 minutes ago, 1Sherman said:

It goes to show that the world is never as large and disconnected as it may seem sometimes.

 

 

16 minutes ago, Admiral_Cirno said:

When Buddha and Hercules walked together...

Hercules lacked the strength to carry that potato team they had, 

and Buddha lost patience with them.

 

Even they don't play randoms on the weekend anymore

 

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Buddhist monk clothing might also be a legacy of the Greek monks.    Note similarities to Greek toga.

 

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2 hours ago, Octavian_of_Roma said:

Do you also watch the Kings and Generals youtube channel?

Neat and interesting stuff, none the less. 

 

 

 

Yes, great channel.

 

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