Thursday, November 29, 2012

Greek Buddhism in Bactria (180 BC)


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A Gandharan bodhisattva, ca. late 1st–2nd century

".....the Mahavamsa, Greek monks seem to have been active proselytizers of Buddhism during the time of Menander: the Yona (Greek) Mahadhammarakkhita (Sanskrit: Mahadharmaraksita) is said to have come from "Alasandra" (thought to be Alexandria of the Caucasus, the city founded by Alexander the Great, near today’s Kabul) with 30,000 monks for the foundation ceremony of the Maha Thupa ("Great stupa") at Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka, during the 2nd century BC.."

"Mahadhammarakkhita (Sanskrit: Mahadharmaraksita, literally "Great protector of the Dharma") was a Greek (in Pali:"Yona", lit. "Ionian") Buddhist master, who lived during the 2nd century BCE during the reign of the Indo-Greek king Menander......In the Mahavamsa, a key Pali historical text, he is recorded as having travelled from “Alasandra” (thought to be Alexandria of the Caucasus, around 150 kilometers north of today's Kabul, or possibly Alexandria of the Arachosians), with 30,000 monks for the dedication ceremony of the Maha Thupa ("Great stupa") at Anuradhapura in Sri Lanka, when it was completed shortly after the death of the Sri Lankan king Dutthagamani Abhaya (r. 161- 137 BCE)."

Click on the map to enlarge.

"In order to propagate the Buddhist faith, Ashoka explains he sent emissaries to the Hellenistic kings as far as the Mediterranean, and to people throughout India, claiming they were all converted to the Dharma as a result. He names the Greek rulers of the time, inheritors of the conquest of Alexander the Great, from Bactria to as far as Greece and North Africa, displaying an amazingly clear grasp of the political situation at the time."

"The Gandhāran Buddhist Texts (oldest Buddhist manuscripts yet discovered, from ca. 1 CE) are attributed to the Dharmaguptaka school. And some believe that the founder of that Buddhist school was...a Greek ....."Dhammarakkhita (Pali, "protected by the Dharma"), was one of the missionaries sent by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka to proselytize the Buddhist faith. He is described as being a Greek (Pali yona) in the Mahavamsa, and his activities are indicative of the strength of the Hellenistic Greek involvement during the formative centuries of Buddhism. (

....."One of the major missionaries was Yonaka Dhammarakkhita. He was...a Greek monk, native of ‘Alasanda’ (Alexandria). He features in the Pali tradition as a master of psychic powers as well as an expert on Abhidhamma......(ḍḍiyana-interesting-tidbits)

"The Legacy of the Indo-Greeks starts with the formal end of the Indo-Greek Kingdom from the 1st century CE, as the Greek communities of central Asia and northwestern India lived under the control of the Kushan branch of the Yuezhi, apart from a short-lived invasion of the Indo-Parthian Kingdom. The Kushans founded the Kushan Empire, which was to prosper for several centuries. In the south, the Greeks were under the rule of the Western Kshatrapas."

The 36 Indo-Greek kings known through epigraphy or through their coins belong to the period between 180 BC to 10–20 AD.....

"Isidorus of Charax in his 1st century CE "Parthian stations" itinerary described "Alexandropolis, the metropolis of Arachosia" as being Greek:....."Beyond is Arachosia (Old Persian Hara[h]uvati, Avestan Haraxvaiti)). And the Parthians call this White India; there are the city of Biyt and the city of Pharsana and the city of Chorochoad (Haraxvat) and the city of Demetrias; then Alexandropolis, the metropolis of Arachosia; it is Greek, and by it flows the river Arachotus(Harahvati). As far as this place the land is under the rule of the Parthians."—"Parthians stations", 1st century AD."

Greek warriior in the Sampul tapestry, woollen wall hanging, 3rd–2nd century BC, Sampul, Urumqi Xinjiang Museum.

".....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). This reluctance towards anthropomorphic representations of the Buddha, and the sophisticated development of aniconic symbols to avoid it (even in narrative scenes where other human figures would appear), seem to be connected to one of the Buddha’s sayings, reported in the Digha Nikaya, that discouraged representations of himself after the extinction of his body.....Probably not feeling bound by these restrictions, and because of "their cult of form, the Greeks were the first to attempt a sculptural representation of the Buddha".....

"The Mahamvasa lists the congregations that visited Sri Lanka for the dedication of the Maha Thupa, explaining that: "From Alasanda the city of the Yonas came the thera (elder) Yona Mahadhammarakkhita with thirty thousand bhikkhus." (Mahavamsa, XXIX)......This reference is seen as having several implications regarding the role of the Greeks in the Buddhist community at that time:.....Alexandria of the Caucasus or Alexandria of the Arachosians, cities under the control of the Greek king Menander, had a Buddhist monk population of possibly as many as 30,000, indicating a flourishing Buddhist culture under the Greeks.....The head of this Buddhist community was a Greek (Yona) Buddhist elder whose religious name was Mahadhammarakkhita ("Great protector of the Dharma), indicating the direct involvement of Greeks in the development of the faith, in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent......They were able to travel unhindered south as far as Sri Lanka, indicating some kind of stable political situation along the west coast of the Indian subcontinent, especially at a time when the Sunga Empire in the east was persecuting Buddhists......It is also separately established through another text, the Milinda Panha, and archeological evidence that Menander himself ruled a vast empire in northern India, and that he became a Buddhist arhat.[citation needed] According to Buddhist tradition he was a great benefactor of the Buddhist faith, on a par with Ashoka or the Kushan Kanishka......These elements tend to indicate the importance of Buddhism within Greek communities in northwestern India, and the prominent role Greeks probably played in developing the Buddhist faith during its first few formative centuries.".....“The shape of ancient thought. Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian philosophies”, by Thomas Mc Evilly (Allworth Press, New York 2002)


John Hopkins.....Northern New Mexico….November 2012


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