Greek Buddha: Pyrrho's Encounter with Early Buddhism in Central Asia

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Princeton University Press, Jun 9, 2015 - History - 304 pages

How a Greek philosopher's encounters with Buddhism in Central Asia influenced Western philosophy

Pyrrho of Elis went with Alexander the Great to Central Asia and India during the Greek invasion and conquest of the Persian Empire in 334–324 BC. There he met with early Buddhist masters. Greek Buddha shows how their Early Buddhism shaped the philosophy of Pyrrho, the famous founder of Pyrrhonian scepticism in ancient Greece.

Christopher I. Beckwith traces the origins of a major tradition in Western philosophy to Gandhara, a country in Central Asia and northwestern India. He systematically examines the teachings and practices of Pyrrho and of Early Buddhism, including those preserved in testimonies by and about Pyrrho, in the report on Indian philosophy two decades later by the Seleucid ambassador Megasthenes, in the first-person edicts by the Indian king Devanampriya Priyadarsi referring to a popular variety of the Dharma in the early third century BC, and in Taoist echoes of Gautama's Dharma in Warring States China. Beckwith demonstrates how the teachings of Pyrrho agree closely with those of the Buddha Sakyamuni, "the Scythian Sage." In the process, he identifies eight distinct philosophical schools in ancient northwestern India and Central Asia, including Early Zoroastrianism, Early Brahmanism, and several forms of Early Buddhism. He then shows the influence that Pyrrho's brand of scepticism had on the evolution of Western thought, first in Antiquity, and later, during the Enlightenment, on the great philosopher and self-proclaimed Pyrrhonian, David Hume.

Greek Buddha demonstrates that through Pyrrho, Early Buddhist thought had a major impact on Western philosophy.


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What an utter travesty! I wouldn't bother engaging with this were it not for the book being passed off as serious academic work. The author claims to use "hard data" i.e. Hellenistic Greek sources who don't even mention the Buddha by name (Pyrrho of Elis; Megasthenes etc) as better sources for understanding early Buddhism and Iron Age India than the Pali canon, the bedrock of Buddhist scripture!! And that's just the tip of the iceberg - other grossly ignorant and mind-numbing arguments range from the late post-Buddhist dating of the Upanishads and Jainism, claiming Gandhara as the birthplace of Buddhism, the Buddha as a Scythian/Central Asian and Taoism as an off-shoot of early Buddhism!  


Pyrrho the Persian Empire and India
Beyond Humanity
The Earliest Attested Forms of Buddhism
Buddhist Thought in Classical Age China and India
What the Buddha Pyrrho and Hume Argue Against
The Buddha and His Awakening
APPENDIX A The Classical Testimonies of Pyrrhos Thought
APPENDIX B Are Pyrrhonism and Buddhism Both Greek in Origin?
APPENDIX C On the Early Indian Inscriptions

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About the author (2015)

Christopher I. Beckwith is professor of Central Eurasian studies at Indiana University, Bloomington. His books include Warriors of the Cloisters, Empires of the Silk Road, and The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia (all Princeton). He is the recipient of a MacArthur Award.

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