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Buddhism in the Roman Empire

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    Posted: 30 Sep 2009 at 22:57
I'm very interested in this topic, although, honestly, don't know much. May be more knowledgeable members can share their information.
 
It always fascinated me what a tremendous force had Buddhist message in the beginning of the new era.
 
Why couldn't it become succesful in the West? What if Buddhism, and not Christianity filled the desire for the new religion? And why Buddhism failed in the West?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Birddog Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 Oct 2009 at 04:10
Now I'm trying to remember where I read it and I many have to go to my library to find it but I remember reading a theory that some of Jesus teachings may have come from India! The theory was that during Jesus say in Egypt as a youth he may have made a journey to India, or meet some Hindu traders in Egypt. Most of what he was saying was pretty unique in the West at the time he said it and it may have been this Indian influcance. But Buddism did reach the Roman/Greek world around 200 BC, but it just seemed to confuse them. Very different cultures. I'm just rambling so I'll shut up now.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 Oct 2009 at 04:36
Yeah, there are a lot of stories of Jesus' life in India etc. there is even a so-called "Tibetian gospel" that allegedly describe Jesus' life in India and his Buddhist learning, unfortunately, all of those have little credibility.
 
But, also, there are interesting parallels between some apocryphs and and the Buddhist stories. Also, scholars see Buddhist influence in Gnostic and Manichean doctines.  I do, however, believe that the Buddhist ideas were no less alien for the Romans than the Christian ones.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Harburs Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 Oct 2009 at 04:44
The closest formidable Buddhist kingdom to Romans were Kushans (present day Afghanistan) in eastern border of Persian empire. Their influence could not pass through vast Persian empire and they were finally defeated by the Persians. I see Persia as an obstacle for Buddhist influence in western region and Indian nature of Buddhism (belonging to a very far land and different culture) as another reason. Wealth and power helped many religions to prosper in the past
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 Oct 2009 at 05:05
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 Oct 2009 at 05:11
Originally posted by Suren Suren wrote:

The closest formidable Buddhist kingdom to Romans were Kushans (present day Afghanistan) in eastern border of Persian empire. Their influence could not pass through vast Persian empire and they were finally defeated by the Persians. I see Persia as an obstacle for Buddhist influence in western region and Indian nature of Buddhism (belonging to a very far land and different culture) as another reason. Wealth and power helped many religions to prosper in the past
 
Different culture is not such an obstacle in this case if we consider the examples of Greco-Buddhist kingdoms in Central Asia.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Zagros Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 01 Oct 2009 at 09:52
The Zaorastrian Sassanids sw them as a threat and ostensibly destroyed the religion in Iran in the same way as they did Christianity.

Maybe it would have spread like Mitraism did in Rome, but I agree with Suren that the Sassanids were hostile to it and they were in its direct path to Europe - anyhow I think even if it did infiltrate into Europe it would, just like Mitraism (which was Iranic in origin), have been supplanted by Christianity.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 Oct 2009 at 11:42
Where did Pythagoras get the concept of reincarnation from?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Zagros Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 Oct 2009 at 12:53
It's not a very profound concept for starters and, with source in Buddhism, it could easily travel with merchants and traders.

In fact, is it reasonable to assume that Rome in fact HAD substantial contact with Buddhism by way of traders and merchants?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Carcharodon Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 Oct 2009 at 14:13
Rome had some connections with Sri Lanka so some Buddhist ideas can have come to Rome that way.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 Oct 2009 at 15:11
Rome apparently had contacts with Buddhism. There is an Asoka inscription about sending messionaries to the West and document that says that there were 30 thousand Greek Buddhist monks from Egypt who came to India and build a huge temple dedicated to Buddha.
 
It was a couple of centuries before Rome took over Egypt, but it should have left enough information about Buddhism for Rome.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Zagros Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 Oct 2009 at 15:57
Perhaps it didn't take root in Roman culture because it was not militaristic enough? Just a thought.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 Oct 2009 at 16:53
Was Christianity militaristic?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Zagros Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 Oct 2009 at 17:12
Christianity took centuries to adopt - Buddhism had no proximity for sustained influence whereas Christianity's heart was very close to the epicentre of Roman civilisation.

Mithraism was adopted because it was percieved as part of a military rite despite its centre of gravity not being within Rome's realms.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 Oct 2009 at 19:33
Originally posted by Zagros Zagros wrote:

It's not a very profound concept for starters and, with source in Buddhism, it could easily travel with merchants and traders.
 
But it didn't occur to anyone else in the Indo-European, Semitic and Egyptian cultures, did it?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Zagros Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 Oct 2009 at 19:49
Well it did occur in other branches of Hinduism long before Buddhism, AFAIK.  Additionally, the Greek philosopher could have dreamt it up independently. 

However, I would lean towards your implication that it would have been brought to their attention from more eastern origins, perhaps Buddhism, or more so Hinduism itself or the proto Indo-Iranian source of Hinduism and Zaroastrianism* given the relative dates of Pythagoras and Buddhism's zenith which was the better part of a millennium later.

Now, if spices and textiles made their way from India and China to Rome, I see no reason why concepts wouldn't.

*Zaroastrianism spawned from the consolidation and demotion of the Iranic deities (Ashuras) as subordinates of the supreme Ahura Mazda by the prophet Zaroaster.  Amongst the Iranic people Ashuras were good and the Divas were bad, amongst the Indic branch it was the other way around.


Edited by Zagros - 02 Oct 2009 at 19:54
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote gcle2003 Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 Oct 2009 at 20:04
Originally posted by Zagros Zagros wrote:

Well it did occur in other branches of Hinduism long before Buddhism, AFAIK. 
My slip. Partly I was having trouble defining the necessary geographical area. However, as I remember, there's a definite case for arguing that the Indo-European tribes moving into India brought a pantheon with them that parallelled that of their western relatives, and picked up the idea of reincarnation from the aboriginal inhabitants. Hinduism IIRC includes the concept of a afterworld in which souls spend a period before being reincarnated, which also indicates a merger of religious bases.
 
No question though that the Indians had the idea of reincarnation before anyone west of them.
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Additionally, the Greek philosopher could have dreamt it up independently. 
Of course. It seems a little odd though that no-one else did.
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However, I would lean towards your argument that it would have been brought to their attention from more eastern origins, perhaps Buddhism, or more so Hinduism itself or the proto Indo-Iranian source of Hinduism and Zaroastrianism*.

Now, if spices and textiles made their way from India and China to Rome, I see no reason why concepts wouldn't.

*Zaroastrianism spawned from the consolidation and demotion of the Iranic deities (Ashuras) as subordinates of the supreme Ahura Mazda by the prophet Zaroaster.  Amongst the Iranic people Ashuras were good and the Divas were bad, amongst the Indic branch it was the other way around.
Yes. I don't think there's any reincarnation in Zoroastrianism though, is there?
 
I really asked about Pythagoras because he seems to be a good example of Greek thought being influenced by eastern religions.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Zagros Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 Oct 2009 at 20:08
No reincarnation in Zaroastrianism, in fact I make an uninformed suggestion - I posited that reincarnation arrived in India with the Indic religions rather than it being something which they adopted from India proper.

Edited by Zagros - 02 Oct 2009 at 20:08
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Harburs Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 02 Oct 2009 at 20:12
Originally posted by Sarmat Sarmat wrote:

Originally posted by Suren Suren wrote:

The closest formidable Buddhist kingdom to Romans were Kushans (present day Afghanistan) in eastern border of Persian empire. Their influence could not pass through vast Persian empire and they were finally defeated by the Persians. I see Persia as an obstacle for Buddhist influence in western region and Indian nature of Buddhism (belonging to a very far land and different culture) as another reason. Wealth and power helped many religions to prosper in the past
 
Different culture is not such an obstacle in this case if we consider the examples of Greco-Buddhist kingdoms in Central Asia.
Gerco-Bactrian can not be a good example, because the greek elites have been mixed with local bactrians for some centuries and still they were minority in their kingdom. With decline of Selucid kingdom they lost the direct connection with Greece and their influence declined. Next, as you can guess, if you want to rule over the majority you need to adopt their culture and influence. Buddhism was close to them and influenced them.  What I was trying to say is how a foreign culture can be adopt if there is militaristic or elite group conversion help. If Buddhism had begun inside the Roman border it had a chance.


Edited by Suren - 02 Oct 2009 at 20:14
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 Oct 2009 at 02:24
Originally posted by gcle2003 gcle2003 wrote:

Originally posted by Zagros Zagros wrote:

It's not a very profound concept for starters and, with source in Buddhism, it could easily travel with merchants and traders.
 
But it didn't occur to anyone else in the Indo-European, Semitic and Egyptian cultures, did it?
There is reincarnation in Manicheism, Gnosticism, Judaistic mysticism (Kabbala), arguebly, though, some believe all of those trace their origin to Indian theology.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 Oct 2009 at 02:30
Originally posted by Suren Suren wrote:

  Gerco-Bactrian can not be a good example, because the greek elites have been mixed with local bactrians for some centuries and still they were minority in their kingdom. With decline of Selucid kingdom they lost the direct connection with Greece and their influence declined. Next, as you can guess, if you want to rule over the majority you need to adopt their culture and influence. Buddhism was close to them and influenced them. 
Yes, but the Greeks in Greco-Bactrian kingdoms acquired a good understanding of Buddhist ideas and they could explain it to their brethren in Mediterranean in their native language. There is one of Asoka's inscription is in Greek BTW, apparently, made by the Central Asian Greeks.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 Oct 2009 at 02:37
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote lirelou Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 Oct 2009 at 04:31
Just an afterthought. Roman and Greek coins from the Second century A.D. have been found at Oc Eo in what later became Southern Cambodia (Khmer Krom) and is today Vietnam's Mekong Delta. The ruling Kingdom of the period, called Funan by the Chinese, was Hindu at the time. Buddhism received its belief in reincarnation from Hinduism. though reincarnation is doctrinally from human form to human form, in many areas of South Vietnam lay Buddhists believe that one can also be reincarnated in animal form. One wonders if this is a holdover from Hinduism, as local Boddisatvas also include multi-armed figures.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Zagros Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 Oct 2009 at 12:18
a. I think it is also important to take into account the relative dates of everything we're discussing here.  Pythagoras was 500BC, the Central Asian Greek kingdoms were hundreds of years later.

b. Coins don't prove much except that there was trade and those coins likely have found their way there through further degrees of trading (e.g. Roman -> Iranian -> Indian -> Cambodian). 

c. This thread has raised, and answered to a degree, the following questions:

Why didn't Buddhism take root in the Roman Empire?

How did the Indian concept of reincarnation occur into Greek thought?

Was reincarnation unique to the Hindu religions?

How could the above concept have travelled west if it was?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Zagros Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 Oct 2009 at 12:22
Something else which occurred to me is that the Romans and Iranians were not in a perpetual state of war, there was prolonged periods of peace and there was active trade between the two blocs.  During peacetime it would have been relatively straightforward for Romans or Easterners to traverse Iran to each other.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Sarmat Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 04 Oct 2009 at 16:49
Yes, and besides that there was a direct sea routes to India from Egypt from the times of Ptolemy up to the Byzantine empire.

Edited by Sarmat - 04 Oct 2009 at 21:43
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