Indian influence on Greek Philosophy

Joshua A

Ad Honorem
Nov 2012
2,253
The topic of Indian philosophy and its comparison with Greek philosophy as well as as the evidence of an Indian influence on the origins of Greek philosophy appeared in my thread "Ancient and medieval achievements of the Indians" I am separating that topic from there and creating its own thread, so we can continue all discussion on that topic here.

I am responding to the latest post on that topic here:

Congratulations for this wonderful thread. I have not read most of it but I have made a quick perusal and can vouch that the information posted by you is exceptional and needs to be known by those Indians who know more about Western history and literature than about their own.

I also thank you very much for suggesting the work of Thomas Mcevilley 'The Shape of Ancient Thought'. This books seems like a magnum opus and has received a great degree of critical acclaim.

I got an ecopy of this book after a little trouble.

What the author claims with full responsibility is this - the pre-Socratic school of Greek philosophy, which is given the pre-eminent place by Western scholars as the fountainhead of later Greek philosophy, was derived directly from Indian philosophy. This is a groundbreaking assertion and he has argued his case with such rigorous analysis that I do not think there is a scholar competent enough to refute him on this.

I have just started reading the book and have finished with the foreword. The foreword itself is quite revealing because it very clearly explains the motivations behind the colonial distortion of Indian history. This explanation given by Dr. Mcevilley is the most penetrative insight into the phenomenon of Western Indology. It seems the acceptance of the SC is also a natural outcome of this Western mindset of cultural superiority, a superiority according to them inherited from the Greeks. Though this mindset is being slowly abandoned, it has still not gone away. What we need is the setting up and patronage of Indian institutions that compete with Western ones and which research and publish top class material on Indian history through the Indian viewpoint.

For those interested, the following a video where the author briefly explains his views stated much more indepth in his book.
Thomas McEvilley on 'The Shape of Ancient Thought' - YouTube

Unfortunately, Dr. Mcevilley is no longer with us. He passed away this year due to cancer.
Yes, Thomas Mcevilly's research is the most comprehensive to date, earlier many scholars in the late 19th century had pointed it out, including surprisingly Max Muller, who noted the unmistakable parallels between India's Samkhya philosophy and Pythagorean thought. This lead some scholars to speculate Pythagoras may have undertaken a trip to India, but I think it is more likely Pythagoras may have learned the Indian philosophy from Near East and Persia, where Indians were present in large numbers. It is very possible that he learned so-called Pythagoras theorem from Baudayana's Sulba sutras, where it is stated.

One unmistakable feature I have personally noted is the 4-5 elements scheme: earth, fire, air, water and ether. It is highly unlikely that this could have been an independent development. The 5 elements have a much older history in Samkhya philosophy, first clearly enunciated in the Upanishads.
Another interesting point is the Greek 5 elements are lesser developed and complex, the Greeks either thought the world was made out of either one of them, or a combination of them. They literally thought of them to be actual substances. The understanding of their properties was based on density and their natural place in the world, earth and water are most dense, so they have a tendency to fall, all things on earth are made out of earth and water matter; air and fire are least dense so they have a tendency to rise. A mixture of literal earth, fire, air and water made up all matter(wood for example had fire inside in it, which was released when the wood was set on fire)

The Samkhya 5 element scheme does not see the 5 elements as literal substances, but rather to be made out of more subtle and primary elements(tanmatras) which were imperceptible due to their minuteness. The Vaiseshika philosophy later developed this idea into the theory of atoms, they came up with what is the closest proto-type to modern atomic theory, that each sensory property(except sound/vibration) was due to a unique elementary particle(atomism is another philosophy which appeared in India before Greece, and again was more developed and complex, and was accepted by every school of philosophy, except Charvaka) They also said atoms were spherical, infinitesimal points and combined based on compatible properties. They even knew that different states of matter(solid, liquid, gas) were atoms with different levels of heat energy and chemical reactions happened due to heat breaking chemical bonds. Here the 5 elements were based on an epistemological scheme using sets:

5 senses: 5 unique sensory properties: 5 elements
ear: sound: ether:
skin: touch: air/wind
eyes: colour: fire/light:
tongue: taste: water
nose: smell: earth

They are ordered in terms of density, ether being the least dense and earth being the most dense. Like the Greek version, Earth and water have a downwards tendency and fire and air has an upwards tendency. In Indian medicine(Ayurveda) this principle is used to recognize what the effects of a drug will be in the body. Emetics are made of herbs which have strong fire element(causing upwards movement) and purgatives made out of herbs with strong earth element(causing downwards movement)

This is a more scientific version of the 5 element theory. In fact when the 5 elements are understood in the Indian way, then we can really say the world really is made out of only 5 elements. If the Greeks really did just inherit the ideas of the 5 elements from Indian, it would explain why the Greek version is lesser developed. Ditto with atomic theory.

More details will be covered in part 5 of my thread.

Another unmistakable parallel with Samkhya thought present in Greek thought is seen in the similarities between Greek and Indian medicine. It is definitely no coincidence that the Greeks and Indians would both develop a theory of disease that says disease is due the imbalance of three-four humours, and it is restored by restoring their balance. Even some of the of mainlines of treatment used in Indian medicine(panchakarma) is the same: sweating, blood-letting, vomiting, purgative in order to expel toxins from the body. And again we see the Greek version is lesser developed and complex than its Indian counterpart, in fact almost primitive in comparison. For instance blood letting in Indian medicine was done through the use of leeches, in Greek medicine it was done through cutting veins! The practice continued on till modern times and many people were killed through this unscientific practice, including the first president of America George Washington who was being cured for high fever and infection! (The Indians cured fever using a paste of a neem plant for its cooling properties, and it is still one of the most effective treatments for fever today in India)

Likewise, the Greek three humour theory was not as developed as the Indian one, while the Greeks literally thought the humours were literally bile, phelgm and wind, the Indian version saw them as energetic principles that regulated functions in the body, such as vata(wind) regulated circulation, nervous system, elimination and cognitive-motor processes, pitta(bile) regulated metabolism, digestion and optical activity and kapha(phelgem) regulated muscles, tissues, blood, skeletal and reproductive system. Each of the humour had specific properties e.g. Kapha is cold, dense, sweet, sticky. When there was an imbalance disease arose in the system that was out balance, and then the opposite properties were introduced through diet and drugs to balance it e.g., Diabetes was classified as a Kapha-disorder, and was balanced using the properties hot, light, bitter and liquidity(such as bitter melon soup)

While Greek medicine was dangerous and primitive, with more people dying from the treatment than the diseases(!) Indian medicine was highly effective, safe and scientific, and most recent scientific research is showing it is more effective and safe than modern medicine for many diseases. Many modern medicines are now being developed from ancient Indian drugs. Another remarkable feature is the Indian theory works, all the specific drugs which were used for a specific disease have been shown to treat that disease, in many cases better than a modern drug for the same.(Such as Guggulu in Diabetes is shown to reduce blood sugar levels better than the standard drug)

Still more remarkable is they had scientifically classified 1200 diseases and approx 700 drugs, of plant, animal and mineral origin with a detailed description of their properties, potency, main effects, side effects and classified them into drug groups, they even had protocols for clinical trials. They had classified 300+ surgical operations, 120 surgical instruments and 8 categories of surgery, including reconstructive plastic surgery. Almost all the modern diseases were known to them. They also knew about genetics, germs(and classified a list of diseases due to germs with treatment, including germs which were invisible) sanitation, sterlization of surgical equipment, plant cells.

It almost seems like an insult knowing this to continue to call Hippocrates the father of modern medicine and Galen the father of modern surgery, when a few centuries before them(according to SC) there was a Sushruta and Charaka.

More is covered in section 3 of my thread.

You will see a common theme emerge in what I am telling, whatever the field the Indian version is almost always more developed and complex, and is in fact more comparable to modern philosophy/science in development. I will give a summary of the oldest text in each field(all texts are dated 1st millennium BCE)

Biology and Medicine, Sushruta Samhita, Charaka Samhita(Agnivesha tantra)
Botany: Vrikshayurveda by Parasara
Linguistics: Ashtadhyayi by Panini(grammar), Nirukta by Yaksa(etymology), Shiksha by Gargeya(phonetics) Chandashastra by Pingala(prosody)
Physics: Vaiseshika sutras by Kanada
Mathematics: Sulba Sutras(Pythgoras theorem, Pythagorean triplets, simple geometry, circling the square, Diaophantine eqauations, surds, irrational numbers ), Chandashastra by Pingala(binary numbers, hashing algorithms, pascals triangle, bionomials) Ashtadhyayi by Panini(boolean logic, mathematical linguistics)
Epistemology and logic: Nyaya Sutras by Gotama
Metaphysics: Upanishads, Mahabharata(including gita)
Economics and politics: Arthashastra by Kautaliya, Manusmiriti
Psychology: Yoga sutras by Patanjali

Compare:

Biology and Medicine: Hippocrotatic corpus, Animalium works by Aristotle
Botany: Enquiry into plants, on the cause of plants by Theophrastus
Linguistics: Cletus by Plato, Rhetoric, logic by Aristotle
Physics: Aristotle's metaphysics(more natural philosophy)
Epistemology and logic: Aristotle's logic
Metaphysics and ethics: Plato's works
Economics and politics: Plato's republic, Aristotle politics
Psychology: Plato's works, Aristotle's De Anima

Although according to SC both the Indian and Greek literature belong to the same time period, one will find the Greek works unremarkable in comparison and far less developed and refined. Unless one is being ignorant, this is glaringly obvious in the areas of medicine, botany, linguistics, epistemology and mathematics. The Greeks have nothing to rival Panini, Pingala, Parasara and Patanjali. Hippocrates is not a match for Sushrutha and Charaka. In the fact the only fair comparisons would be Sausere, Bloomfield, Chomsky, Bakkus, Boole, Post(Panini) Leibinitz(Pingala) Lennius, Hooke(Parasara) William James, Freud, Jung, Skinner, Maslow(Patanjali) In other words we can only find similar sophistication only in modern works.

But we need to ask why are the Indians works so much more sophisticated, complex and developed than the Greek counterparts if they are from the same time frame? My hypothesis is that they are not the same time frame at all. The Indian works show evidence of a long history of development, and because of the SC, it has all been arbitrarily squeezed into the 1200-100BCE timeframe. The result is we find an unnatural lightening fast progression from an agricultural, nomadic, priestly, savage and illiterate society to just in two centuries an urban, democratic and scientific society(!!!)

The guy who gave us the 1200BCE date, Max Muller, himself admitted he guessed the date. He assigned 200 years for each class of literature from the Sutras, arbitrarily deciding the Sutras begin at 600BCE. Then 200 years for each class Upanishads, Brahmanas, Vedas = 600 + 200 + 200 + 200 = 1200BCE for the Vedas. What is ironic, none of his peers agreed with his reasoning, even his own students. Muller was also working with the belief that there was nothing older than 4004BCE, because the Earth was created then. So We need to stop taking as gospel Mullers 1200BCE date and force Indian history to fit his arbitrary time frame, and then we will start to understand why the Indian literature is more developed. It is more developed, I maintain, because it is thousands of years older than the Greek works(hence has had more time for development) It comes from the IVC period. The literature evidences an urban, scientific and sophisticated society - and the IVC fits the bill. Hence we find why the IVC matches the descriptions in the literature, even the standard bricks are the same ratio prescribed in the text. Mystery solved(at least for me)

This will then also explain the yuga theory of the Indians. The Indians talk about how through the ages civilization became less and less developed because of a decline in capability of human beings , and then starts to rise again. The archaeological evidence shows us exactly that. In India we see, how the IVC(3rd Millennium BCE) is more advanced(better administration, better town planning, more urban) than what we find in the so-called Vedic age. In Egypt, we find the earlier Pyramids are more advanced than the later Pyramids. In Mesoamerica, we find the Mayans are more advanced than the Aztecs. This goes to show that civilization does not develop in a smooth linear manner, but rather in cycles of evolution, then devolution, then evolution, then devolution. We see evidence of a high level of civilization in 4000-3000BCE, and then we see evidence of a low level of civilization 1000-100BCE all over the world. Then again we see a high level of civilization 1000-2000AD.
(I am just giving approximate dates, I do not claim to be accurate)

Understood this way, my hypothesis is the Greeks inherited an old tradition of philosophy from the remnants of the old tradition which was preserved in the Indian literature, but were only acquainted with the ideas in a loose manner, missing out the details(like the 5 elements). So Greek Philosophy, though originated out of Indian influence, was mostly an independent development and followed its own trajectory. It would be wrong then to say Greek philosophy is identical to, equivalent to, or completely derived from Indian philosophy. More accurate to say, Indian philosophy inspired Greek philosophy.
 
Last edited:
Sep 2012
87
Dera Ismail Khan,KPK,Pakistan
Pyrrho is the founding figure in Greek skepticism. An ongoing debate within Hellenistic philosophy is whether Pyrrho’s skepticism and the doctrine that the sage is imperturbable is indigenous to Greek philosophical tradition or whether it was substantially influenced by Indian philosophy. The impetus for this discussion is the description of Pyrrho’s life in Diogenes Laertius (IX.61) which describes the influence of the Indiangymnosophists- naked philosophers- on Pyrrho. For Diogenes states that Pyrrho got the idea of agnosticism and the suspension of judgement from his trip to India.
John Burnet was one of the first to advance the position that Pyrrho was strongly influenced by Indian philosophy: “We see that those who knew Pyrrho well describe him as a sort of Buddhistarhat[enlightened monk] and that is doubtless how we should regard him. He is not so much a skeptic as an ascetic and quietist.” [1]Many other Greek scholars have agreed with this position. This is of course based on taking Diogenes Laertius’ biography of Pyrrho as basically accurate. Flintoff in aPhronesisarticle gives the best defense of Diogenes’ biography of Pyrrho: “In his carefully and precisely documented life of Pyrrho of Elis, a life which is certainly one of the best such in theLives of the Eminent Philosophersand draws upon an impressive gamut of different and seemingly independent sources (some of them, like Antigonus of Carystus, IX 62), near contemporaries of the subject of the biography,” Diogenes is giving us an accurate account of Pyrrho’s life. [2]While not all scholars agree there is Indian influence on Pyrrho, it is significant that in the debate they do not question the basic biography that Diogenes offers of Pyrrho, they only question whether Indian influence is the best way of explaining Pyrrho’s philosophy and way of life.
Reale advanced the thesis that the doctrine the sage is happy even while being tortured became prominent in Hellenistic philosophy because of the meeting of Pyrrho with Indian philosophers on his trip to India with Alexander the Great. Reale claims that in Pyrrho there is a new type of person entering Greek culture and this new type of person flowers in the Stoics and Epicureans who were influenced by Pyrrho. [3]
Before examining Reale’s thesis, I will relate the information of the general Greek contact with Indian philosophers which is contained in Strabo’sGeography, Plutarch’sLife of Alexanderand Arrian’sAnabasis of Alexander. Pyrrho traveled with Alexander the Great’s army to India and while he was there he encountered thegymnosophists, or naked philosophers. These naked philosophers, probably Jain monks, taught a doctrine of total indifference to bodily concerns. These monks disregarded their body and would meditate naked all day in the blazing sunshine. Onesicritus, a disciple of Diogenes the Cynic, was also on this trip and he visited thegymnosophists. He saw them on the hot sand, motionless, devoted to endurance. Onesicritus said the sand was so hot that no one could endure walking on it with bare feet. Nevertheless, these naked monks stood or laid motionless on the sand for the whole day. [4]Their primary teaching was that a person ought to remove pleasure and pain from the soul. [5]
One of these monks, Calanus, made a very strong impression on the Greeks. For Alexander the Great wanted some of these Indians monks to travel with him so that he could talk with them. Most of the monks refused, saying that Alexander had nothing that he could offer them. [6]Nevertheless, one monk, Calanus, decided to travel with Alexander the Great and his army. Interestingly, Calanus was teased by the other monks for “specially lacking self-control; they reproached Calanus because he deserted the happiness to be found with them and served a master other than God.” [7]
While he was traveling with Alexander’s army, Calanus realized that he had an incurable stomach ailment and rather than be an invalid, he decided to kill himself. [8]Alexander and the Greeks tried to dissuade him, but Calanus was determined to commit suicide. A big funeral pyre was built and Calanus climbed on it amongst much fanfare in the Greek camp. [9]As he set himself on fire and burnt to death, Calanus was totally imperturbable; the seemingly unbearable pain did not phase him at all. [10]The Greeks were amazed at this total self-control; they were “astonished to see that Calanus did not move any part of his body in the flames.” [11]This showed them how strong and invincible human resolution really was. [12]
Pyrrho saw Calanus burning and was struck by the monk being burnt alive with total imperturbability. To Pyrrho, this demonstrated that external events are not intrinsically painful as the sage can neutralize even the worst suffering. This was proof to Pyrrho that if you were mentally strong enough, nothing external could affect you and thus it was indeed possible for a sage to be totally impervious to pain. [13]Pyrrho saw in this a living demonstration that the sage can be happy even in the midst of the worst torment. [14]
Reale and others maintain that because of seeing Calanus impervious to pain, Pyrrho came back to Greece knowing the practicality of a lifestyle of invulnerability to the external world. This notion of the sage’s invulnerability may have been a theoretical ideal in Greek philosophy before Pyrrho, but now it became practical in a whole new way. According to Reale, Pyrrho envisioned a new type of man for the Greeks. [15]From Pyrrho, this doctrine passed to Epicurus and the Stoics. For the founders of both schools were very much interested in Pyrrho. Nausiphanes was captivated by Pyrrho and when Epicurus met Nausiphanes, Epicurus marvelled at Pyrrho and continually asked Nausiphanes about Pyrrho. [16]Furthermore, the founder of Stoicism was very much influenced by the new type of man that Pyrrho introduced into Greek thought. [17]
Possible Greek sources of Pyrrho’s philosophy
Reale is right and Pyrrho was influenced by the Indian philosophers. The problem though was that Pyrrho did not learn enough from the Indians and this accounts for the inadequacies of Stoic ethical theory. Before I investigate this point, I need to defend Reale’s thesis from the criticism that Pyrrho’s philosophy could have developed from the internal dynamics of Greek philosophy. There are three important possible sources from within Greek philosophy for the Pyrrho’s philosophy: Socrates, Democritus and the Cynics. In defending Reale’s thesis it is important to remember Reale and others are not claiming that the Greeks did not have a intellectual conception of the sage’s invulnerability, they are only claiming that a new type of person was introduced into Greek culture because of Pyrrho’s encounter with Indiangymnosophists.
Socrates is the first possible source within Greek philosophy for the later Hellenistic concern over the sage’s total imperturbability. Certainly Socrates maintained that virtue was very much related to happiness and he was legendary for his powers of physical endurance. Furthermore, in theApology(30C) Socrates says that Meletus and Anytus could not harm him and he also says no evil can happen to a good man.(41C-D) This is certainly the intellectual foundation for the idea that the good man cannot be harmed even if he is tortured. Furthermore, Socrates was evidently not perturbed about dying and so he lived this ideal to some extent.
Nevertheless, in theCrito(47E) Socrates asks: “Then is life worth living when the body is worthless and ruined?” Crito responds: “Certainly not.” Socrates then goes on to maintain that the health of the soul is even more important than the health of body. This argument has no force unless Socrates thinks the body’s health is important. There is also a discussion of health in theLysis(218E) where Socrates implies that health is a good thing. Furthermore, Socrates says that it is better to suffer wrong than to do it, although he wishes not to do either.(Gorgias, 469C) This implies that even a sage could suffer a wrong and later on Socrates reinforces this by saying that a man put to death unjustly is wretched, although not as wretched as the person who puts him to death.(Gorgias, 469B)
Socrates’ position on the relationship between virtue and happiness has recently been a very controversial issue. [18]There is significant evidence that Socrates identified virtue and happiness, while there is also much evidence that shows that Socrates thought non-moral goods such as health contributed to one’s happiness. [19]The best position on this difficult issue is taken by Klosko. [20]For Klosko maintains that Socrates holds two different positions regarding the relationship between virtue, other goods, and happiness in different kinds of situations. [21]Thus in matters of life and death, as in theApologyandCrito, Socrates has a tendency to advocate the view that identifies virtue with happiness. [22]However, when Socrates is concerned with more general ethical matters, he has a tendency to espouse the wider view that other, non-moral goods contribute to happiness. [23]So Klosko correctly locates Socrates in between Stoics who identify virtue with happiness and the more common position that external goods are necessary for happiness.
We cannot conclusively know Socrates’ opinions on this subject, but there is a much different tone in Socrates from the later Hellenistic philosophers. Socrates loved life and had nothing against enjoyment and pleasures as long as they did not prevent someone from being concerned about virtue; he has a much different outlook than the Hellenistic philosophers who maintain the sage even welcomes torture to prove himself. The Hellenistic emphasis on bearing torture and indifference to pain is much closer to the Jain monks than it is to Socrates. Socrates certainly contributes to the Greek receptivity to the Indian philosophers, but Socrates is not enough to explain the new, much more austere way of living that Pyrrho and other Hellenistic philosophers embrace.
While Socrates is not enough to explain Pyrrho’s new way of living, McEvilley offers Democritus as the Greek source for Pyrrho’s philosophy. [24]McEvilley offers as evidence first that Pyrrho was taught by Anaxarchus who was a pupil of Democritus or of a Democritean. [25]Furthermore, Democritus extols tranquility which is “a state in which the soul continues calm and strong, undisturbed by any fear or superstition or any other emotion.” [26]McEvilley also tries to show that one can derive the skeptical elements of Pyrrho’s thought from Democritus’ philosophy. [27]
Nevertheless, within McEvilley’s very defense of Democritus as the source of Pyrrho’s thought, he gives much more evidence of Indian influence on Pyrrho than of Democritus’ influence. McEvilley points out so many similarities between Pyrrho and Buddhism that he himself destroys his very position. Most importantly of all, there is the fundamental difference between Pyrrho’s general philosophical system and Democritus’ system. Democritus had a dogmatic ontology with atoms being the basis of reality, while Pyrrho adopts a total skepticism. On the other hand, skepticism at this time was rampant among the Indian philosophers. Furthermore, the purpose of Indian skepticism was to achieve tranquility which is exactly the same goal as in Pyrrho’s ethics. [28]So at the core of Pyrrho’s philosophy is exactly the same position as Indian philosophy, a position which Democritus does not share. Even McEvilley sees that Pyrrho’s position here is much closer to Buddhism than to Democritus: “Pyrrhon omitted the dogmatic atomism and retained the phenomenalism as ‘Buddhism positively negated ontology and took to phenomenalism.’” [29]So like Buddhism, and unlike Democritus, Pyrrho’s philosophy fundamentally negated ontology and adopted phenomenalism according to McEvilley. Another commentator thinks Buddhism and Pyrrho’s philosophy are so close that Pyrrho might have adopted the very words of the Buddhists. [30]
McEvilley further destroys his position by listing many more similarities between Buddhism and Pyrrho than he does between Democritus and Pyrrho. Indeed his own list of similarities between Buddhism and Pyrrho include all of Pyrrho’s major positions: things are nondifferent (adiaphora) or without distinguishing marks, things are without a definite essence, our opinions are neither true nor false, we should be without judgments and preferences, this lack of opinions leads to imperturbability, moderation, various mind states are flows of sense impressions which we should accept with equanimity, and getting beyond conceptualizing leads toaphasiaand toataraxia. [31]All these positions are the basis of Buddhism as well as Pyrrho’s philosophy. McEvilley even states that the essence of Buddhist philosophy, the Four Noble Truths, are more or less identical with the main thrust of Pyrrho’s basic philosophy or Pyrrho’s basic philosophy “might function as an explication of the Four Truths.” [32]While he does list all the Buddhist similarities to the most important of Pyrrho’s doctrines, even McEvilley does not claim that all these doctrines are similar to Democritus’ positions. So McEvilley himself better demonstrates Indian, especially Buddhist, influence on Pyrrho rather than Democritus’ influence.
Nor is this the only problem with McEvilley’s position. Flintoff further catalogues the practical ways of living that are unique to Pyrrho and unknown in previous Greek tradition: the transcendence of pain, his lack of involvement with the political and practical affairs of the city states and his vagrancy. [33]While these are all unprecedented in Greek thought, (except for maybe Heraclitus), they are all common features of Indian ascetical life.
There are two more major problems of trying to show Democritus’ influence on Pyrrho. First, there is no evidence from his writings or his life that Democritus practiced the kind of indifference that Pyrrho practiced. Nor is there any evidence Democritus maintained the extreme position that the sage can be happy while being tortured or indeed anything close to that position. So there is no evidence that Democritus contributed anything more than Socrates and so at most he helped lay the conceptual foundation of a doctrine that Pyrrho found actually lived in India by thegymnosophists.
The last problem for McEvilley’s positions is that even if Pyrrho was influenced by Democritus, it still would not give conclusive evidence that this doctrine comes from sources purely internal to Greek philosophy. For Diogenes Laertius relates that Democritus traveled to India to study with thegymnosophists [34]and thus even if Democritus had this practical philosophy of invulnerability, he could have gotten it from Indian philosophy. Flintoff shows that there is no reason not to believe these stories in Diogenes as they are not mechanically told and the Greeks often learnt from other countries in other areas. [35]Furthermore there is one story in Diogenes Laertius about Democritus doing ascetical exercises that could best be explained by Buddhist influence. Diogenes relates that Democritus “would train himself, says Antisthenes, by a variety of means to test his sense-impressions by going at times into solitude and frequenting tombs.” [36]While there is no evidence of frequenting tombs in Greek tradition as a way of training one’s sense impressions, the Buddhists had a quite intricate and gruesome meditation system based on dead bodies and visiting tombs. [37]Democritus’ exercises are better explained by saying that he learnt them from the Buddhists, than that he developed them himself.
So the evidence for Democritus’s influence on Pyrrho does not withstand critical inquiry. The last possible source for Pyrrho’s way of living internal to Greek philosophy is the most credible source: the Cynics. This Greek philosophical school advocated an indifference to social customs and freedom from society before Pyrrho ever went to India. Furthermore, the Cynics wanted to be free from pleasure and indifferent to pain. There are also stories in Diogenes Laertius of the austerities Diogenes performed in order to become indifferent to pain. “In summer he used to roll in it over hot sand, while in winter he used to embrace statues covered with snow, using every means of inuring himself to hardship.” [38]
While it seems the Cynics believed in asceticism, nevertheless there is a major problem with the stories about the Cynics. For it turns out that rather than this asceticism being indigenous to Greek philosophy, many of the stories about the Cynics’ indifference to pain were later literary inventions so that the Cynics could match the Indiangymnosophists. Ragnar Hoistad shows that these stories about Diogenes’ ascetical ability were copied from Onesicritus’ description of thegymnosophists. [39]Onesicritus was a disciple of Diogenes who accompanied Alexander to India and he was very interested in thegymnosophists. Nevertheless Onesicritus found in thegymnosophistsa much more radical type of asceticism than the Cynics practiced. [40]Gerhard, in an important study of the legend of Diogenes, shows that as Indian influence came into Greece at the time of Alexander, this created a desire to portray Diogenes as being a match for the Indiangymnosophists. [41]Thus the Greeks wanted to see the Cynics as practicing asceticism as rigorously as the Indians practiced it. So the story of Diogenes rolling in the hot sand seems to be copied from Onesicritus’ account of Indian philosophers lying naked on the hot rocks and sand. [42]
Evidence shows that the stories about Diogenes’ asceticism were specifically invented so that the Cynics could match the kind of indifference the Indians were able to practice. This evidence makes it doubtful the Cynics really were able to be indifferent and imperturbable. Thus it is unlikely their influence was enough to generate Pyrrho’s new way of life. More likely the Cynics, like Socrates, contributed an ideal for a way of life that made Pyrrho receptive to the Indian philosophers. Thus the Indiangymnosophistswere living proof to Pyrrho that the Cynic ideal could be fully practiced in all one’s life. [43]
The evidence for Indian influence on Pyrrho and so on the Hellenistic doctrine that the sage can be happy even if tortured is strong but not conclusive. While parts of this doctrine were held by Socrates and the Cynics, Pyrrho takes the doctrine to a radically deeper level because of Indian influence. This conclusion is strengthened if one also looks at the deep similarity between Indian logic and skepticism and Pyrrho’s logic and skepticism. [44]
Because of the deficiencies of the historical record, the Indian influence on Hellenistic thought cannot be established conclusively. Nevertheless this influence would explain the deficiencies in Stoic thought. For while the Greeks borrowed from Indian philosophy, they only had limited contact with the Indians and could not penetrate to the core of Indian thought. So Pyrrho could see Calanus burning and be inspired by that to believe a person actually could be totally indifferent to whatever happened to him, but he was not able to discover the deeper system behind Calanus’ actions. It is relatively easy to watch someone immolate himself and draw the idea that one can be indifferent to all that happens; it is much harder to really understand everything behind that action. Pyrrho especially could easily have missed the vital importance of meditation in Indian thought. For meditation is not something a person can master in a short while. To learn how to meditate well, one needs a teacher and long experience, especially if one wants to master the higher levels of meditation. A similar point could be made about the happiness that comes from meditation and becoming concerned for the whole. So Pyrrho was inspired by the Indian philosophers because the Indians perfected Greek philosophical ideals, but he missed the point that meditation was necessary to fully live this life.
So it is very likely that Pyrrho was inspired by Indian philosophy, but did not learn about meditation or about the happiness that comes from being concerned for the whole. For this reason, the Stoics also would be lacking these features in their ethical system. The sense there was something more to be learnt from India was felt by later Greek philosophers. Thus the Neopythagorean philosopher Apollonius of Tyana went to India to learn from the Indian philosophers. Even more importantly, Plotinus tried to go to India and learn more from the Indian philosophers. For Plotinus accompanied the Roman emperor’s army on an expedition to India but disaster struck the expedition and both the army and Plotinus never made it to India.[1]. John Burnet,Encyclopedia of Religions and Ethics, Vol. 11, (no date or place given), p. 229, as quoted in Everard Flintoff, “Pyrrho and India,”Phronesis25 (1980): 108.
[2]. Flintoff, 88.
[3]. Giovani Reale,History of Greek Philosophy, Vol. 3 (Albany: SUNY Press, 1985), 311-327.
[4]. StraboGeography15.1.63.
[5]. Strabo 15.1.65.
[6]. ArrianAnabasis of Alexander7.2.
[7]. Arrian 7.2.
[8]. Arrian 7.3 andPlutarch’s Lives, Vol. VII, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971, p. 417.
[9]. Arrian 7.3.
[10]. Plutarch,Lives, pp. 417-9.
[11]. Arrian 7.3.
[12]. Ibid.
[13]. Reale, Vol. 3, 311.
[14]. Reale, Vol. 3, 312.
[15]. Reale, Vol. 3, 325.
[16]. Diogenes Laertius 9.64.
[17]. Reale, Vol. 3, 325-6.
[18]. See the Vlastos and Irwin articles cited in the next footnote.
[19]. The best discussion of the evidence is in Gregory Vlastos, “Happiness and Virtue in Socrates’ Moral Theory,”inSocrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991) and T. H. Irwin, “Socrates the Epicurean?”Essays on the Philosophy of Socrates, ed. Hugh Benson (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).
[20]. G. Klosko, “Socrates on Goods and Happiness,”History of Philosophy Quarterly4 (1987).
[21]. Klosko, 260.
[22]. Klosko, 259.
[23]. Klosko, 260.
[24]. Thomas McEvilley, “Pyrrhonism andMadhayamika,”Philosophy East and West32 (January 1982): 19-22.
[25]. Diogenes Laertius 9.58.
[26]. Diogenes Laertius 9.45.
[27]. McEvilley, 21-5.
[28]. Flintoff, 93.
[29]. McEvilley, 21.
[30]. Bhikku Nanajivako, “The Indian Origin of Pyrrho’s Philosophy of Epoche,”Indian Philosophical Quarterly12 (Oct-Dec. 1985): 320.
[31]. McEvilley, 3-4.
[32]. McEvilley, 17.
[33]. Flintoff, 98-9.
[34]. Diogenes Laertius 9.35.
[35]. Flinthoff, 89-90.
[36]. Diogenes Laertius 9.38.
[37]. The best description of this Buddhist practice is in Bhadantacariya Buddhaghosa,The Path of Purification, Vol. 1 (Boulder: Shambhala, 1976), p. 185-9.
[38]. Diogenes Laertius 6.23.
[39]. Ragnar Hoistad,Cynic Hero and Cynic King(Uppsala: Carl Bloms Boktryckeri, 1948), 137-8.
[40]. Hoistad, 137.
[41]. G.A. Gerhard, “Zur Legende vom Kyniker Diogenes,”Archiv fur Religionswissenschaft15 (1912): 394f. as cited in Hoistad, 138.
[42]. Hoistad, 137.
[43]. Reale, Vol. 3, 311.
[44]. Flintoff, 92-3 & 102-3, and McEvilley, 6-15 and also Ninajivako passim.
 
Sep 2012
87
Dera Ismail Khan,KPK,Pakistan
Pyrrho is the founding figure in Greek skepticism. An ongoing debate within Hellenistic philosophy is whether Pyrrho’s skepticism and the doctrine that the sage is imperturbable is indigenous to Greek philosophical tradition or whether it was substantially influenced by Indian philosophy. The impetus for this discussion is the description of Pyrrho’s life in Diogenes Laertius (IX.61) which describes the influence of the Indiangymnosophists- naked philosophers- on Pyrrho. For Diogenes states that Pyrrho got the idea of agnosticism and the suspension of judgement from his trip to India.
John Burnet was one of the first to advance the position that Pyrrho was strongly influenced by Indian philosophy: “We see that those who knew Pyrrho well describe him as a sort of Buddhistarhat[enlightened monk] and that is doubtless how we should regard him. He is not so much a skeptic as an ascetic and quietist.” [1]Many other Greek scholars have agreed with this position. This is of course based on taking Diogenes Laertius’ biography of Pyrrho as basically accurate. Flintoff in aPhronesisarticle gives the best defense of Diogenes’ biography of Pyrrho: “In his carefully and precisely documented life of Pyrrho of Elis, a life which is certainly one of the best such in theLives of the Eminent Philosophersand draws upon an impressive gamut of different and seemingly independent sources (some of them, like Antigonus of Carystus, IX 62), near contemporaries of the subject of the biography,” Diogenes is giving us an accurate account of Pyrrho’s life. [2]While not all scholars agree there is Indian influence on Pyrrho, it is significant that in the debate they do not question the basic biography that Diogenes offers of Pyrrho, they only question whether Indian influence is the best way of explaining Pyrrho’s philosophy and way of life.
Reale advanced the thesis that the doctrine the sage is happy even while being tortured became prominent in Hellenistic philosophy because of the meeting of Pyrrho with Indian philosophers on his trip to India with Alexander the Great. Reale claims that in Pyrrho there is a new type of person entering Greek culture and this new type of person flowers in the Stoics and Epicureans who were influenced by Pyrrho. [3]
Before examining Reale’s thesis, I will relate the information of the general Greek contact with Indian philosophers which is contained in Strabo’sGeography, Plutarch’sLife of Alexanderand Arrian’sAnabasis of Alexander. Pyrrho traveled with Alexander the Great’s army to India and while he was there he encountered thegymnosophists, or naked philosophers. These naked philosophers, probably Jain monks, taught a doctrine of total indifference to bodily concerns. These monks disregarded their body and would meditate naked all day in the blazing sunshine. Onesicritus, a disciple of Diogenes the Cynic, was also on this trip and he visited thegymnosophists. He saw them on the hot sand, motionless, devoted to endurance. Onesicritus said the sand was so hot that no one could endure walking on it with bare feet. Nevertheless, these naked monks stood or laid motionless on the sand for the whole day. [4]Their primary teaching was that a person ought to remove pleasure and pain from the soul. [5]
One of these monks, Calanus, made a very strong impression on the Greeks. For Alexander the Great wanted some of these Indians monks to travel with him so that he could talk with them. Most of the monks refused, saying that Alexander had nothing that he could offer them. [6]Nevertheless, one monk, Calanus, decided to travel with Alexander the Great and his army. Interestingly, Calanus was teased by the other monks for “specially lacking self-control; they reproached Calanus because he deserted the happiness to be found with them and served a master other than God.” [7]
While he was traveling with Alexander’s army, Calanus realized that he had an incurable stomach ailment and rather than be an invalid, he decided to kill himself. [8]Alexander and the Greeks tried to dissuade him, but Calanus was determined to commit suicide. A big funeral pyre was built and Calanus climbed on it amongst much fanfare in the Greek camp. [9]As he set himself on fire and burnt to death, Calanus was totally imperturbable; the seemingly unbearable pain did not phase him at all. [10]The Greeks were amazed at this total self-control; they were “astonished to see that Calanus did not move any part of his body in the flames.” [11]This showed them how strong and invincible human resolution really was. [12]
Pyrrho saw Calanus burning and was struck by the monk being burnt alive with total imperturbability. To Pyrrho, this demonstrated that external events are not intrinsically painful as the sage can neutralize even the worst suffering. This was proof to Pyrrho that if you were mentally strong enough, nothing external could affect you and thus it was indeed possible for a sage to be totally impervious to pain. [13]Pyrrho saw in this a living demonstration that the sage can be happy even in the midst of the worst torment. [14]
Reale and others maintain that because of seeing Calanus impervious to pain, Pyrrho came back to Greece knowing the practicality of a lifestyle of invulnerability to the external world. This notion of the sage’s invulnerability may have been a theoretical ideal in Greek philosophy before Pyrrho, but now it became practical in a whole new way. According to Reale, Pyrrho envisioned a new type of man for the Greeks. [15]From Pyrrho, this doctrine passed to Epicurus and the Stoics. For the founders of both schools were very much interested in Pyrrho. Nausiphanes was captivated by Pyrrho and when Epicurus met Nausiphanes, Epicurus marvelled at Pyrrho and continually asked Nausiphanes about Pyrrho. [16]Furthermore, the founder of Stoicism was very much influenced by the new type of man that Pyrrho introduced into Greek thought. [17]
Possible Greek sources of Pyrrho’s philosophy
Reale is right and Pyrrho was influenced by the Indian philosophers. The problem though was that Pyrrho did not learn enough from the Indians and this accounts for the inadequacies of Stoic ethical theory. Before I investigate this point, I need to defend Reale’s thesis from the criticism that Pyrrho’s philosophy could have developed from the internal dynamics of Greek philosophy. There are three important possible sources from within Greek philosophy for the Pyrrho’s philosophy: Socrates, Democritus and the Cynics. In defending Reale’s thesis it is important to remember Reale and others are not claiming that the Greeks did not have a intellectual conception of the sage’s invulnerability, they are only claiming that a new type of person was introduced into Greek culture because of Pyrrho’s encounter with Indiangymnosophists.
Socrates is the first possible source within Greek philosophy for the later Hellenistic concern over the sage’s total imperturbability. Certainly Socrates maintained that virtue was very much related to happiness and he was legendary for his powers of physical endurance. Furthermore, in theApology(30C) Socrates says that Meletus and Anytus could not harm him and he also says no evil can happen to a good man.(41C-D) This is certainly the intellectual foundation for the idea that the good man cannot be harmed even if he is tortured. Furthermore, Socrates was evidently not perturbed about dying and so he lived this ideal to some extent.
Nevertheless, in theCrito(47E) Socrates asks: “Then is life worth living when the body is worthless and ruined?” Crito responds: “Certainly not.” Socrates then goes on to maintain that the health of the soul is even more important than the health of body. This argument has no force unless Socrates thinks the body’s health is important. There is also a discussion of health in theLysis(218E) where Socrates implies that health is a good thing. Furthermore, Socrates says that it is better to suffer wrong than to do it, although he wishes not to do either.(Gorgias, 469C) This implies that even a sage could suffer a wrong and later on Socrates reinforces this by saying that a man put to death unjustly is wretched, although not as wretched as the person who puts him to death.(Gorgias, 469B)
Socrates’ position on the relationship between virtue and happiness has recently been a very controversial issue. [18]There is significant evidence that Socrates identified virtue and happiness, while there is also much evidence that shows that Socrates thought non-moral goods such as health contributed to one’s happiness. [19]The best position on this difficult issue is taken by Klosko. [20]For Klosko maintains that Socrates holds two different positions regarding the relationship between virtue, other goods, and happiness in different kinds of situations. [21]Thus in matters of life and death, as in theApologyandCrito, Socrates has a tendency to advocate the view that identifies virtue with happiness. [22]However, when Socrates is concerned with more general ethical matters, he has a tendency to espouse the wider view that other, non-moral goods contribute to happiness. [23]So Klosko correctly locates Socrates in between Stoics who identify virtue with happiness and the more common position that external goods are necessary for happiness.
We cannot conclusively know Socrates’ opinions on this subject, but there is a much different tone in Socrates from the later Hellenistic philosophers. Socrates loved life and had nothing against enjoyment and pleasures as long as they did not prevent someone from being concerned about virtue; he has a much different outlook than the Hellenistic philosophers who maintain the sage even welcomes torture to prove himself. The Hellenistic emphasis on bearing torture and indifference to pain is much closer to the Jain monks than it is to Socrates. Socrates certainly contributes to the Greek receptivity to the Indian philosophers, but Socrates is not enough to explain the new, much more austere way of living that Pyrrho and other Hellenistic philosophers embrace.
While Socrates is not enough to explain Pyrrho’s new way of living, McEvilley offers Democritus as the Greek source for Pyrrho’s philosophy. [24]McEvilley offers as evidence first that Pyrrho was taught by Anaxarchus who was a pupil of Democritus or of a Democritean. [25]Furthermore, Democritus extols tranquility which is “a state in which the soul continues calm and strong, undisturbed by any fear or superstition or any other emotion.” [26]McEvilley also tries to show that one can derive the skeptical elements of Pyrrho’s thought from Democritus’ philosophy. [27]
Nevertheless, within McEvilley’s very defense of Democritus as the source of Pyrrho’s thought, he gives much more evidence of Indian influence on Pyrrho than of Democritus’ influence. McEvilley points out so many similarities between Pyrrho and Buddhism that he himself destroys his very position. Most importantly of all, there is the fundamental difference between Pyrrho’s general philosophical system and Democritus’ system. Democritus had a dogmatic ontology with atoms being the basis of reality, while Pyrrho adopts a total skepticism. On the other hand, skepticism at this time was rampant among the Indian philosophers. Furthermore, the purpose of Indian skepticism was to achieve tranquility which is exactly the same goal as in Pyrrho’s ethics. [28]So at the core of Pyrrho’s philosophy is exactly the same position as Indian philosophy, a position which Democritus does not share. Even McEvilley sees that Pyrrho’s position here is much closer to Buddhism than to Democritus: “Pyrrhon omitted the dogmatic atomism and retained the phenomenalism as ‘Buddhism positively negated ontology and took to phenomenalism.’” [29]So like Buddhism, and unlike Democritus, Pyrrho’s philosophy fundamentally negated ontology and adopted phenomenalism according to McEvilley. Another commentator thinks Buddhism and Pyrrho’s philosophy are so close that Pyrrho might have adopted the very words of the Buddhists. [30]
McEvilley further destroys his position by listing many more similarities between Buddhism and Pyrrho than he does between Democritus and Pyrrho. Indeed his own list of similarities between Buddhism and Pyrrho include all of Pyrrho’s major positions: things are nondifferent (adiaphora) or without distinguishing marks, things are without a definite essence, our opinions are neither true nor false, we should be without judgments and preferences, this lack of opinions leads to imperturbability, moderation, various mind states are flows of sense impressions which we should accept with equanimity, and getting beyond conceptualizing leads toaphasiaand toataraxia. [31]All these positions are the basis of Buddhism as well as Pyrrho’s philosophy. McEvilley even states that the essence of Buddhist philosophy, the Four Noble Truths, are more or less identical with the main thrust of Pyrrho’s basic philosophy or Pyrrho’s basic philosophy “might function as an explication of the Four Truths.” [32]While he does list all the Buddhist similarities to the most important of Pyrrho’s doctrines, even McEvilley does not claim that all these doctrines are similar to Democritus’ positions. So McEvilley himself better demonstrates Indian, especially Buddhist, influence on Pyrrho rather than Democritus’ influence.
Nor is this the only problem with McEvilley’s position. Flintoff further catalogues the practical ways of living that are unique to Pyrrho and unknown in previous Greek tradition: the transcendence of pain, his lack of involvement with the political and practical affairs of the city states and his vagrancy. [33]While these are all unprecedented in Greek thought, (except for maybe Heraclitus), they are all common features of Indian ascetical life.
There are two more major problems of trying to show Democritus’ influence on Pyrrho. First, there is no evidence from his writings or his life that Democritus practiced the kind of indifference that Pyrrho practiced. Nor is there any evidence Democritus maintained the extreme position that the sage can be happy while being tortured or indeed anything close to that position. So there is no evidence that Democritus contributed anything more than Socrates and so at most he helped lay the conceptual foundation of a doctrine that Pyrrho found actually lived in India by thegymnosophists.
The last problem for McEvilley’s positions is that even if Pyrrho was influenced by Democritus, it still would not give conclusive evidence that this doctrine comes from sources purely internal to Greek philosophy. For Diogenes Laertius relates that Democritus traveled to India to study with thegymnosophists [34]and thus even if Democritus had this practical philosophy of invulnerability, he could have gotten it from Indian philosophy. Flintoff shows that there is no reason not to believe these stories in Diogenes as they are not mechanically told and the Greeks often learnt from other countries in other areas. [35]Furthermore there is one story in Diogenes Laertius about Democritus doing ascetical exercises that could best be explained by Buddhist influence. Diogenes relates that Democritus “would train himself, says Antisthenes, by a variety of means to test his sense-impressions by going at times into solitude and frequenting tombs.” [36]While there is no evidence of frequenting tombs in Greek tradition as a way of training one’s sense impressions, the Buddhists had a quite intricate and gruesome meditation system based on dead bodies and visiting tombs. [37]Democritus’ exercises are better explained by saying that he learnt them from the Buddhists, than that he developed them himself.
So the evidence for Democritus’s influence on Pyrrho does not withstand critical inquiry. The last possible source for Pyrrho’s way of living internal to Greek philosophy is the most credible source: the Cynics. This Greek philosophical school advocated an indifference to social customs and freedom from society before Pyrrho ever went to India. Furthermore, the Cynics wanted to be free from pleasure and indifferent to pain. There are also stories in Diogenes Laertius of the austerities Diogenes performed in order to become indifferent to pain. “In summer he used to roll in it over hot sand, while in winter he used to embrace statues covered with snow, using every means of inuring himself to hardship.” [38]
While it seems the Cynics believed in asceticism, nevertheless there is a major problem with the stories about the Cynics. For it turns out that rather than this asceticism being indigenous to Greek philosophy, many of the stories about the Cynics’ indifference to pain were later literary inventions so that the Cynics could match the Indiangymnosophists. Ragnar Hoistad shows that these stories about Diogenes’ ascetical ability were copied from Onesicritus’ description of thegymnosophists. [39]Onesicritus was a disciple of Diogenes who accompanied Alexander to India and he was very interested in thegymnosophists. Nevertheless Onesicritus found in thegymnosophistsa much more radical type of asceticism than the Cynics practiced. [40]Gerhard, in an important study of the legend of Diogenes, shows that as Indian influence came into Greece at the time of Alexander, this created a desire to portray Diogenes as being a match for the Indiangymnosophists. [41]Thus the Greeks wanted to see the Cynics as practicing asceticism as rigorously as the Indians practiced it. So the story of Diogenes rolling in the hot sand seems to be copied from Onesicritus’ account of Indian philosophers lying naked on the hot rocks and sand. [42]
Evidence shows that the stories about Diogenes’ asceticism were specifically invented so that the Cynics could match the kind of indifference the Indians were able to practice. This evidence makes it doubtful the Cynics really were able to be indifferent and imperturbable. Thus it is unlikely their influence was enough to generate Pyrrho’s new way of life. More likely the Cynics, like Socrates, contributed an ideal for a way of life that made Pyrrho receptive to the Indian philosophers. Thus the Indiangymnosophistswere living proof to Pyrrho that the Cynic ideal could be fully practiced in all one’s life. [43]
The evidence for Indian influence on Pyrrho and so on the Hellenistic doctrine that the sage can be happy even if tortured is strong but not conclusive. While parts of this doctrine were held by Socrates and the Cynics, Pyrrho takes the doctrine to a radically deeper level because of Indian influence. This conclusion is strengthened if one also looks at the deep similarity between Indian logic and skepticism and Pyrrho’s logic and skepticism. [44]
Because of the deficiencies of the historical record, the Indian influence on Hellenistic thought cannot be established conclusively. Nevertheless this influence would explain the deficiencies in Stoic thought. For while the Greeks borrowed from Indian philosophy, they only had limited contact with the Indians and could not penetrate to the core of Indian thought. So Pyrrho could see Calanus burning and be inspired by that to believe a person actually could be totally indifferent to whatever happened to him, but he was not able to discover the deeper system behind Calanus’ actions. It is relatively easy to watch someone immolate himself and draw the idea that one can be indifferent to all that happens; it is much harder to really understand everything behind that action. Pyrrho especially could easily have missed the vital importance of meditation in Indian thought. For meditation is not something a person can master in a short while. To learn how to meditate well, one needs a teacher and long experience, especially if one wants to master the higher levels of meditation. A similar point could be made about the happiness that comes from meditation and becoming concerned for the whole. So Pyrrho was inspired by the Indian philosophers because the Indians perfected Greek philosophical ideals, but he missed the point that meditation was necessary to fully live this life.
So it is very likely that Pyrrho was inspired by Indian philosophy, but did not learn about meditation or about the happiness that comes from being concerned for the whole. For this reason, the Stoics also would be lacking these features in their ethical system. The sense there was something more to be learnt from India was felt by later Greek philosophers. Thus the Neopythagorean philosopher Apollonius of Tyana went to India to learn from the Indian philosophers. Even more importantly, Plotinus tried to go to India and learn more from the Indian philosophers. For Plotinus accompanied the Roman emperor’s army on an expedition to India but disaster struck the expedition and both the army and Plotinus never made it to India.[1]. John Burnet,Encyclopedia of Religions and Ethics, Vol. 11, (no date or place given), p. 229, as quoted in Everard Flintoff, “Pyrrho and India,”Phronesis25 (1980): 108.
[2]. Flintoff, 88.
[3]. Giovani Reale,History of Greek Philosophy, Vol. 3 (Albany: SUNY Press, 1985), 311-327.
[4]. StraboGeography15.1.63.
[5]. Strabo 15.1.65.
[6]. ArrianAnabasis of Alexander7.2.
[7]. Arrian 7.2.
[8]. Arrian 7.3 andPlutarch’s Lives, Vol. VII, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971, p. 417.
[9]. Arrian 7.3.
[10]. Plutarch,Lives, pp. 417-9.
[11]. Arrian 7.3.
[12]. Ibid.
[13]. Reale, Vol. 3, 311.
[14]. Reale, Vol. 3, 312.
[15]. Reale, Vol. 3, 325.
[16]. Diogenes Laertius 9.64.
[17]. Reale, Vol. 3, 325-6.
[18]. See the Vlastos and Irwin articles cited in the next footnote.
[19]. The best discussion of the evidence is in Gregory Vlastos, “Happiness and Virtue in Socrates’ Moral Theory,”inSocrates: Ironist and Moral Philosopher(Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1991) and T. H. Irwin, “Socrates the Epicurean?”Essays on the Philosophy of Socrates, ed. Hugh Benson (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).
[20]. G. Klosko, “Socrates on Goods and Happiness,”History of Philosophy Quarterly4 (1987).
[21]. Klosko, 260.
[22]. Klosko, 259.
[23]. Klosko, 260.
[24]. Thomas McEvilley, “Pyrrhonism andMadhayamika,”Philosophy East and West32 (January 1982): 19-22.
[25]. Diogenes Laertius 9.58.
[26]. Diogenes Laertius 9.45.
[27]. McEvilley, 21-5.
[28]. Flintoff, 93.
[29]. McEvilley, 21.
[30]. Bhikku Nanajivako, “The Indian Origin of Pyrrho’s Philosophy of Epoche,”Indian Philosophical Quarterly12 (Oct-Dec. 1985): 320.
[31]. McEvilley, 3-4.
[32]. McEvilley, 17.
[33]. Flintoff, 98-9.
[34]. Diogenes Laertius 9.35.
[35]. Flinthoff, 89-90.
[36]. Diogenes Laertius 9.38.
[37]. The best description of this Buddhist practice is in Bhadantacariya Buddhaghosa,The Path of Purification, Vol. 1 (Boulder: Shambhala, 1976), p. 185-9.
[38]. Diogenes Laertius 6.23.
[39]. Ragnar Hoistad,Cynic Hero and Cynic King(Uppsala: Carl Bloms Boktryckeri, 1948), 137-8.
[40]. Hoistad, 137.
[41]. G.A. Gerhard, “Zur Legende vom Kyniker Diogenes,”Archiv fur Religionswissenschaft15 (1912): 394f. as cited in Hoistad, 138.
[42]. Hoistad, 137.
[43]. Reale, Vol. 3, 311.
[44]. Flintoff, 92-3 & 102-3, and McEvilley, 6-15 and also Ninajivako passim.
 
May 2012
632
Western India
The topic of Indian philosophy and its comparison with Greek philosophy as well as as the evidence of an Indian influence on the origins of Greek philosophy appeared in my thread "Ancient and medieval achievements of the Indians" I am separating that topic from there and creating its own thread, so we can continue all discussion on that topic here.

I am responding to the latest post on that topic here:



Yes, Thomas Mcevilly's research is the most comprehensive to date, earlier many scholars in the late 19th century had pointed it out, including surprisingly Max Muller, who noted the unmistakable parallels between India's Samkhya philosophy and Pythagorean thought. This lead some scholars to speculate Pythagoras may have undertaken a trip to India, but I think it is more likely Pythagoras may have learned the Indian philosophy from Near East and Persia, where Indians were present in large numbers. It is very possible that he learned so-called Pythagoras theorem from Baudayana's Sulba sutras, where it is stated.

One unmistakable feature I have personally noted is the 4-5 elements scheme: earth, fire, air, water and ether. It is highly unlikely that this could have been an independent development. The 5 elements have a much older history in Samkhya philosophy, first clearly enunciated in the Upanishads.
Another interesting point is the Greek 5 elements are lesser developed and complex, the Greeks either thought the world was made out of either one of them, or a combination of them. They literally thought of them to be actual substances. The understanding of their properties was based on density and their natural place in the world, earth and water are most dense, so they have a tendency to fall, all things on earth are made out of earth and water matter; air and fire are least dense so they have a tendency to rise. A mixture of literal earth, fire, air and water made up all matter(wood for example had fire inside in it, which was released when the wood was set on fire)

The Samkhya 5 element scheme does not see the 5 elements as literal substances, but rather to be made out of more subtle and primary elements(tanmatras) which were imperceptible due to their minuteness. The Vaiseshika philosophy later developed this idea into the theory of atoms, they came up with what is the closest proto-type to modern atomic theory, that each sensory property(except sound/vibration) was due to a unique elementary particle(atomism is another philosophy which appeared in India before Greece, and again was more developed and complex, and was accepted by every school of philosophy, except Charvaka) They also said atoms were spherical, infinitesimal points and combined based on compatible properties. They even knew that different states of matter(solid, liquid, gas) were atoms with different levels of heat energy and chemical reactions happened due to heat breaking chemical bonds. Here the 5 elements were based on an epistemological scheme using sets:

5 senses: 5 unique sensory properties: 5 elements
ear: sound: ether:
skin: touch: air/wind
eyes: colour: fire/light:
tongue: taste: water
nose: smell: earth

They are ordered in terms of density, ether being the least dense and earth being the most dense. Like the Greek version, Earth and water have a downwards tendency and fire and air has an upwards tendency. In Indian medicine(Ayurveda) this principle is used to recognize what the effects of a drug will be in the body. Emetics are made of herbs which have strong fire element(causing upwards movement) and purgatives made out of herbs with strong earth element(causing downwards movement)

This is a more scientific version of the 5 element theory. In fact when the 5 elements are understood in the Indian way, then we can really say the world really is made out of only 5 elements. If the Greeks really did just inherit the ideas of the 5 elements from Indian, it would explain why the Greek version is lesser developed. Ditto with atomic theory.

More details will be covered in part 5 of my thread.

Another unmistakable parallel with Samkhya thought present in Greek thought is seen in the similarities between Greek and Indian medicine. It is definitely no coincidence that the Greeks and Indians would both develop a theory of disease that says disease is due the imbalance of three-four humours, and it is restored by restoring their balance. Even some of the of mainlines of treatment used in Indian medicine(panchakarma) is the same: sweating, blood-letting, vomiting, purgative in order to expel toxins from the body. And again we see the Greek version is lesser developed and complex than its Indian counterpart, in fact almost primitive in comparison. For instance blood letting in Indian medicine was done through the use of leeches, in Greek medicine it was done through cutting veins! The practice continued on till modern times and many people were killed through this unscientific practice, including the first president of America George Washington who was being cured for high fever and infection! (The Indians cured fever using a paste of a neem plant for its cooling properties, and it is still one of the most effective treatments for fever today in India)

Likewise, the Greek three humour theory was not as developed as the Indian one, while the Greeks literally thought the humours were literally bile, phelgm and wind, the Indian version saw them as energetic principles that regulated functions in the body, such as vata(wind) regulated circulation, nervous system, elimination and cognitive-motor processes, pitta(bile) regulated metabolism, digestion and optical activity and kapha(phelgem) regulated muscles, tissues, blood, skeletal and reproductive system. Each of the humour had specific properties e.g. Kapha is cold, dense, sweet, sticky. When there was an imbalance disease arose in the system that was out balance, and then the opposite properties were introduced through diet and drugs to balance it e.g., Diabetes was classified as a Kapha-disorder, and was balanced using the properties hot, light, bitter and liquidity(such as bitter melon soup)

While Greek medicine was dangerous and primitive, with more people dying from the treatment than the diseases(!) Indian medicine was highly effective, safe and scientific, and most recent scientific research is showing it is more effective and safe than modern medicine for many diseases. Many modern medicines are now being developed from ancient Indian drugs. Another remarkable feature is the Indian theory works, all the specific drugs which were used for a specific disease have been shown to treat that disease, in many cases better than a modern drug for the same.(Such as Guggulu in Diabetes is shown to reduce blood sugar levels better than the standard drug)

Still more remarkable is they had scientifically classified 1200 diseases and approx 700 drugs, of plant, animal and mineral origin with a detailed description of their properties, potency, main effects, side effects and classified them into drug groups, they even had protocols for clinical trials. They had classified 300+ surgical operations, 120 surgical instruments and 8 categories of surgery, including reconstructive plastic surgery. Almost all the modern diseases were known to them. They also knew about genetics, germs(and classified a list of diseases due to germs with treatment, including germs which were invisible) sanitation, sterlization of surgical equipment, plant cells.

It almost seems like an insult knowing this to continue to call Hippocrates the father of modern medicine and Galen the father of modern surgery, when a few centuries before them(according to SC) there was a Sushruta and Charaka.

More is covered in section 3 of my thread.

You will see a common theme emerge in what I am telling, whatever the field the Indian version is almost always more developed and complex, and is in fact more comparable to modern philosophy/science in development. I will give a summary of the oldest text in each field(all texts are dated 1st millennium BCE)

Biology and Medicine, Sushruta Samhita, Charaka Samhita(Agnivesha tantra)
Botany: Vrikshayurveda by Parasara
Linguistics: Ashtadhyayi by Panini(grammar), Nirukta by Yaksa(etymology), Shiksha by Gargeya(phonetics) Chandashastra by Pingala(prosody)
Physics: Vaiseshika sutras by Kanada
Mathematics: Sulba Sutras(Pythgoras theorem, Pythagorean triplets, simple geometry, circling the square, Diaophantine eqauations, surds, irrational numbers ), Chandashastra by Pingala(binary numbers, hashing algorithms, pascals triangle, bionomials) Ashtadhyayi by Panini(boolean logic, mathematical linguistics)
Epistemology and logic: Nyaya Sutras by Gotama
Metaphysics: Upanishads, Mahabharata(including gita)
Economics and politics: Arthashastra by Kautaliya, Manusmiriti
Psychology: Yoga sutras by Patanjali

Compare:

Biology and Medicine: Hippocrotatic corpus, Animalium works by Aristotle
Botany: Enquiry into plants, on the cause of plants by Theophrastus
Linguistics: Cletus by Plato, Rhetoric, logic by Aristotle
Physics: Aristotle's metaphysics(more natural philosophy)
Epistemology and logic: Aristotle's logic
Metaphysics and ethics: Plato's works
Economics and politics: Plato's republic, Aristotle politics
Psychology: Plato's works, Aristotle's De Anima

Although according to SC both the Indian and Greek literature belong to the same time period, one will find the Greek works unremarkable in comparison and far less developed and refined. Unless one is being ignorant, this is glaringly obvious in the areas of medicine, botany, linguistics, epistemology and mathematics. The Greeks have nothing to rival Panini, Pingala, Parasara and Patanjali. Hippocrates is not a match for Sushrutha and Charaka. In the fact the only fair comparisons would be Sausere, Bloomfield, Chomsky, Bakkus, Boole, Post(Panini) Leibinitz(Pingala) Lennius, Hooke(Parasara) William James, Freud, Jung, Skinner, Maslow(Patanjali) In other words we can only find similar sophistication only in modern works.

But we need to ask why are the Indians works so much more sophisticated, complex and developed than the Greek counterparts if they are from the same time frame? My hypothesis is that they are not the same time frame at all. The Indian works show evidence of a long history of development, and because of the SC, it has all been arbitrarily squeezed into the 1200-100BCE timeframe. The result is we find an unnatural lightening fast progression from an agricultural, nomadic, priestly, savage and illiterate society to just in two centuries an urban, democratic and scientific society(!!!)

The guy who gave us the 1200BCE date, Max Muller, himself admitted he guessed the date. He assigned 200 years for each class of literature from the Sutras, arbitrarily deciding the Sutras begin at 600BCE. Then 200 years for each class Upanishads, Brahmanas, Vedas = 600 + 200 + 200 + 200 = 1200BCE for the Vedas. What is ironic, none of his peers agreed with his reasoning, even his own students. Muller was also working with the belief that there was nothing older than 4004BCE, because the Earth was created then. So We need to stop taking as gospel Mullers 1200BCE date and force Indian history to fit his arbitrary time frame, and then we will start to understand why the Indian literature is more developed. It is more developed, I maintain, because it is thousands of years older than the Greek works(hence has had more time for development) It comes from the IVC period. The literature evidences an urban, scientific and sophisticated society - and the IVC fits the bill. Hence we find why the IVC matches the descriptions in the literature, even the standard bricks are the same ratio prescribed in the text. Mystery solved(at least for me)

This will then also explain the yuga theory of the Indians. The Indians talk about how through the ages civilization became less and less developed because of a decline in capability of human beings , and then starts to rise again. The archaeological evidence shows us exactly that. In India we see, how the IVC(3rd Millennium BCE) is more advanced(better administration, better town planning, more urban) than what we find in the so-called Vedic age. In Egypt, we find the earlier Pyramids are more advanced than the later Pyramids. In Mesoamerica, we find the Mayans are more advanced than the Aztecs. This goes to show that civilization does not develop in a smooth linear manner, but rather in cycles of evolution, then devolution, then evolution, then devolution. We see evidence of a high level of civilization in 4000-3000BCE, and then we see evidence of a low level of civilization 1000-100BCE all over the world. Then again we see a high level of civilization 1000-2000AD.
(I am just giving approximate dates, I do not claim to be accurate)

Understood this way, my hypothesis is the Greeks inherited an old tradition of philosophy from the remnants of the old tradition which was preserved in the Indian literature, but were only acquainted with the ideas in a loose manner, missing out the details(like the 5 elements). So Greek Philosophy, though originated out of Indian influence, was mostly an independent development and followed its own trajectory. It would be wrong then to say Greek philosophy is identical to, equivalent to, or completely derived from Indian philosophy. More accurate to say, Indian philosophy inspired Greek philosophy.
Here you have raised the issue of similarities between Greek & Indian medicine.

You have also previously talked of similarities between Early Greek & Indian philosophy.

The current explanation for these similarities is that the Greeks & Indians must have somehow come into contact during the Achaemenid era. It could be but I find it a weak proposition.

I believe there might be another answer to it. According to the linguists, the Greeks, Armenians & Indo-Iranians lived together for a significant amount of time after the other IE languages separated from them.

Now, if the IE homeland was South Asia, there is a following tantalising scenario:-

Before the Mature Phase of the Indus-Saraswati civilization, all the other IE groups could have moved out of South Asia and into Central Asia with the Hittites & Tocharians having moved significantly closer to the their final destination.

But, since the Greeks, Armenians & Indo-Iranians had stayed back, perhaps during the Mature phase of ISC these groups lived in South Asia. We can be sure that during the mature phase of the ISC, the ISC people must have been scientifically quite advanced. They may have been quite good at Astronomy, Medicine, Mathematics & Philosophy.

Now, if the Greeks & Indo-Aryans were common inheritors of the ISC legacy, it should not surprise us at all that Early Greek Philosophy & Medicine is so similar to Indian Philosophy & Medicine.

I may lastly also point out that the ancient Greek cities were noted for their Grid Iron patterned planning with streets meeting at right angles and also advanced drainage systems. The Mesopotamians & Egyptians did not have these advanced city life. It was only the ancient Minoans and that too after 2000 BC, that show this advanced city planning. Before that we only have the Indus Saraswati civilization & possibly the site of Shahr-i-Sokhta in Eastern Iran.

The Achaemenid era Iranian cities also show a similar city plan. Could this also not be a legacy of common ISC inheritance ?
 
Last edited:

tornada

Ad Honoris
Mar 2013
15,385
India
Here you have raised the issue of similarities between Greek & Indian medicine.

You have also previously talked of similarities between Early Greek & Indian philosophy.

The current explanation for these similarities is that the Greeks & Indians must have somehow come into contact during the Achaemenid era. It could be but I find it a weak proposition.
Based on what? Its certainly stronger than what you've outlined below


I believe there might be another answer to it. According to the linguists, the Greeks, Armenians & Indo-Iranians lived together for a significant amount of time after the other IE languages separated from them.

Now, if the IE homeland was South Asia, there is a following tantalising scenario:-

Before the Mature Phase of the Indus-Saraswati civilization, all the other IE groups could have moved out of South Asia and into Central Asia with the Hittites & Tocharians having moved significantly closer to the their final destination.

But, since the Greeks, Armenians & Indo-Iranians had stayed back, perhaps during the Mature phase of ISC these groups lived in South Asia. We can be sure that during the mature phase of the ISC, the ISC people must have been scientifically quite advanced. They may have been quite good at Astronomy, Medicine, Mathematics & Philosophy.

Now, if the Greeks & Indo-Aryans were common inheritors of the ISC legacy, it should not surprise us at all that Early Greek Philosophy & Medicine is so similar to Indian Philosophy & Medicine.

I may lastly also point out that the ancient Greek cities were noted for their Grid Iron patterned planning with streets meeting at right angles and also advanced drainage systems. The Mesopotamians & Egyptians did not have these advanced city life. It was only the ancient Minoans and that too after 2000 BC, that show this advanced city planning. Before that we only have the Indus Saraswati civilization & possibly the site of Shahr-i-Sokhta in Eastern Iran.

The Achaemenid era Iranian cities also show a similar city plan. Could this also not be a legacy of common ISC inheritance ?
You realize that you are effectively arguing that thought processes remained so close between cultures separated by thousands of years and thousands of miles that they produced similar philosophy and even architecture? Do you realize how illogical that statement is? Tell me, are the British and French so close in culture? They are both descended from similar tribal cultures, both were Roman cultures, and both are separated by a marginal distance. Yet the philosophies, the geo-politics and even the architecture of the two Cultures is wildly different. Your hypothesis is really really weak. Obviously it is also weak in evidence but that has been discussed in another thread so i wont derail this one
 
May 2013
1,724
The abode of the lord of the north
Here you have raised the issue of similarities between Greek & Indian medicine.

You have also previously talked of similarities between Early Greek & Indian philosophy.

The current explanation for these similarities is that the Greeks & Indians must have somehow come into contact during the Achaemenid era. It could be but I find it a weak proposition.

I believe there might be another answer to it. According to the linguists, the Greeks, Armenians & Indo-Iranians lived together for a significant amount of time after the other IE languages separated from them.

Now, if the IE homeland was South Asia, there is a following tantalising scenario:-

Before the Mature Phase of the Indus-Saraswati civilization, all the other IE groups could have moved out of South Asia and into Central Asia with the Hittites & Tocharians having moved significantly closer to the their final destination.

But, since the Greeks, Armenians & Indo-Iranians had stayed back, perhaps during the Mature phase of ISC these groups lived in South Asia. We can be sure that during the mature phase of the ISC, the ISC people must have been scientifically quite advanced. They may have been quite good at Astronomy, Medicine, Mathematics & Philosophy.

Now, if the Greeks & Indo-Aryans were common inheritors of the ISC legacy, it should not surprise us at all that Early Greek Philosophy & Medicine is so similar to Indian Philosophy & Medicine.

I may lastly also point out that the ancient Greek cities were noted for their Grid Iron patterned planning with streets meeting at right angles and also advanced drainage systems. The Mesopotamians & Egyptians did not have these advanced city life. It was only the ancient Minoans and that too after 2000 BC, that show this advanced city planning. Before that we only have the Indus Saraswati civilization & possibly the site of Shahr-i-Sokhta in Eastern Iran.

The Achaemenid era Iranian cities also show a similar city plan. Could this also not be a legacy of common ISC inheritance ?
Knowledge transfer during Achaemenid times explains it correctly. Though we cannot rule out even a Pre - Achaemenid trade connection. Pre - IVC society had no developed Upanishadic Philosophies, they are certainly Post Vedic.