What is Meditation

Meditation Techniques

Spiritual Inspirators

 

 

 


CONSCIOUSNESS & AWARENESS

I. Consiousnes & Evolution

II. Defining Awareness & Consciousness
III. The Mystery of Awareness

IV. The Enigma of Consciousness
V. Consciousness in the East and the West
VI. What Can be Said About Consciousness
VII. The Ouroboros Consciousness
VIII.  Ouroboric Super-Awareness

IX. The Super-Awake Flow
X. Fields of Consciousness

XI. Group Meditation


THE INNER AND THE OUTER PERSON
The inner and the outer Person
Integral Suffering and Happiness
Modern Forms of Suffering
 

THE BUTTERFLY OF THE SOUL

The liberation from or of the Self
The Glue of Love
God wants to be Human

CIVILIZATION & CONSCIOUSNESS
Civilization and Consciousness 
Civilization and Consciousness Part II

 





 
۞

 

The photographs of
the Bactrian stucco heads used in this chapter were taken during a trip to Bangkok ten years ago. While seeking out ancient beads for a personal collection, I visited Bangkok's most prominent antique shops. There, to my astonishment,
 I found a multitude of Bactrian stucco and stone heads,
many accompanied by certificates and scientific documentation verifying their antiquity. Some of the shop owners generously allowed me to photograph
these artifacts.
 

 









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CIVILIZATION AND CONSCIOUSNESS - PART I
Buddhism and Christianity seen as Civilizational Self-control Zones
 

In this exploration, we delve into how historical societal developments have laid the groundwork for enhanced living conditions, thereby nurturing the growth of consciousness. As previously discussed in our chapter on Consciousness, while the core nature of consciousness remains largely enigmatic, we understand that aspects like language-based cognition and the development of analytical reasoning are central to its operation. These facets of consciousness have been primarily cultivated within the nurturing environments of religious institutions.

As we proceed, we will focus more closely on consciousness, considering it as the pinnacle of humanity's neural evolution. This advanced aspect of our neural architecture, being a recent evolutionary development, is also our most fragile. In times of stress, this delicate flame of consciousness can be easily threatened. Therefore, the progress of civilization can be likened to a series of architectural projects, constructing systems of self-regulation that support and allow this nascent bio-cognitive function to thrive.
 
On the cusp of analogy, one might contend that an intricate network of communication and trade, as established by civilization, reflects a more sophisticated network of neurons within the brain. There is a tandem progression between civilization and consciousness, each evolving and becoming more complex in concert.

The inception of civilization saw us evolve from beings predominantly governed by raw instinctual awareness to those more in tune with consciousness. In the ensuing sections, I will adopt a materialist-historical lens to delve into consciousness. While I don't strictly adhere to materialism as a philosophical standpoint, I regard it as one of the many potent tools for comprehension.
 
Starting our exploration from the ice age might be tempting, but given the sparse and often inconsistent data from that era, our journey will commence with  closer look at the trade routes beginning at the time of the conquests of Alexander the Great. In this context it's crucial to acknowledge that during these times, a staggering 60% of the world's population made their homes along these trade conduits from the Far East to the Middle East.


My goal is to illustrate the interplay between consciousness and civilization: how consciousness contributes to the building of civilization, and conversely, how civilization fosters the development of consciousness. Simultaneously, we must consider religions and religious institutions as prime environments for nurturing the growth of consciousness. In this exploration, personal belief in religion is  irrelevant. Even a fictional narrative can unite us in shared realms of abstract consciousness, demonstrating how collective beliefs, whether factual or fictional, are able to create a shared field of consciousness.

CIVILIZATION AND THE BIRTH OF NON DUAL CONSCIOUSNESS
The Pivotal Role of Silk Routes in the Confluence of Civilizations and Consciousness
In the crucible of interaction between East and West, both cultures underwent irrevocable transformations that have left an indelible impact on our world. While it might seem like a digression to delve deeply into the unfolding of civilization in the attempt to understand the unfoldment of human consciousness, this significant facet of history anyhow warrants closer attention.

The advent of human civilization and consciousness was propelled dramatically forward with the establishment of the Silk Roads, famously known for bridging China with Europe. Yet, the earlier trade networks that connected India, the Middle East, and Southern Europe are often not given due recognition. As highlighted by Giovanni Veradi, the significance of North-western India in the realm of Buddhist and Indian studies has been largely underestimated:

"North-western India enjoys, or rather suffers from,
a peculiar situation in the field of Buddhist and Indian studies."
'Buddhism in North-western India and Eastern Afghanistan'

I would venture to broaden Veradi's insight to encompass not only religious aspects but also cultural and commercial exchanges. Similarly, its neighbor, the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, was one of the wealthiest and most influential states at its peak. This is reflected in the title of H.G. Rawlinson's work: "Bactria, The History of a Forgotten Empire".
 
In this section, I will focus my analysis on the vibrant 'trade synapses' that linked India with the Western world, deliberately omitting China from this discussion.

Borromean rings of Unity


 


Jesusisbuddha.com

TRi-RaTNaS

TRi-NiTaS

To offer a glimpse into the forthcoming discussion let's contemplate the Borromean rings—a symbol of interconnectedness. The sculpture on the left illustrates the Buddhist Triple Gem: the Buddha, the Sangha, and the Dharma, known as the TRi-RaTNaS in Sanskrit. In parallel, the image on the right represents the Christian Holy Trinity, termed TRi-NiTaS in Latin. These symbols, though from distinct traditions, both convey a unity that transcends individual elements, hinting at the profound interrelation between civilization and consciousness we are set to explore.
 
Buddhism and Christianity in Mutual Co-creation
It's impossible to envision Buddhism as we know it without acknowledging the influences of Greek thought, just as we can't fully understand the foundations of Christianity without considering its debts to Buddhist philosophy. As Max Müller states in "India: What It Can Teach Us," there are striking resemblances between Buddhism and Christianity that are impossible to ignore, particularly given that Buddhism predates Christianity by at least four centuries. He encourages scholarly exploration to uncover the historical channels through which Buddhism might have influenced Christian thought:

That there are startling coincidences between Buddhism and Christianity cannot be denied, and it must likewise be admitted that Buddhism existed at least 400 years before Christianity. I go even further, and should feel extremely grateful if anybody would point out to me the historical channels through which Buddhism had influenced Christianity.
India: What it can teach us - Max Müller

In a similar vein, the statement from Draaper's "Intellectual Development of Europe" also acknowledges that if European ideas made their way to the far East via the Bactrian Empire, then it's also likely that Asiatic ideas, in turn, seeped into European consciousness through similar channels.

If through the Bactrian Empire European ideas were transmitted to the far East, through that and similar channels Asiatic ideas found their way to Europe.
Draaper: Intellectual Development of Europe, I. ii.

Elaine Pagels, a British scholar of Buddhism, observes:

"Yet the gnostic Gospel of Thomas relates that as soon as Thomas recognizes him, Jesus says to Thomas that they have both received their being from the same source... Does not such teaching—the identity of the divine and human, the concern with illusion and enlightenment, the founder who is presented not as Lord, but as spiritual guide—sound more Eastern than Western? Some scholars have suggested that if the names were changed, the 'living Buddha' appropriately could say what the Gospel of Thomas attributes to the living Jesus. Could Hindu or Buddhist tradition have influenced gnosticism?... Trade routes between the Greco-Roman world and the Far East were opening up at the time when gnosticism flourished (AD 80–200); for generations, Buddhist missionaries had been proselytizing in Alexandria. We note, too, that Hippolytus, who was a Greek-speaking Christian in Rome (c. 225), knows of the Indian Brahmins, and includes their tradition among the sources of heresy..."

This quote provides an insightful perspective on the similarities between certain aspects of Buddhist and Christian teachings, suggesting a potential historical connection through trade routes and cultural exchanges.

THE SILK ROAD AND OCRAM'S RAZOR
Despite the paucity of direct evidence conclusively establishing Christianity as a Western adaptation of Buddhist principles, the hypothesis merits further investigation. This inquiry, guided by the principles of Occam's Razor, aims to navigate through the complex web of historical, philosophical, and cultural contexts. By applying this analytical tool, which favors simpler explanations over more complex ones, we can explore whether the paths of these two great religious traditions might have intersected in a meaningful way.
 
Our exploration will concentrate on circumstantial evidence, such as the historical timelines of Buddhism and early Christianity, and the extensive network of trade routes like the Silk Road, which facilitated rich cultural exchanges between the East and West. This approach will allow us to consider the possibility of ideological and philosophical transmissions between these two regions.

Furthermore, we will delve into the intriguing parallels between Buddhist and Christian teachings. This comparative analysis will focus on similar ethical teachings, motifs in parables, and the overarching philosophies present in both religions. Such parallels, while not definitive proof of direct influence, can provide insights into the shared human experiences and universal truths that these religions encapsulate.

Interpretative analysis will also play a crucial role in this exploration. We will examine how religious ideas and practices often evolve by incorporating elements from existing beliefs and how these adaptations are understood by various scholars and historians. This will include a consideration of the syncretic nature of religious development and the challenges in tracing the origins of specific doctrines or practices.

It is important to note that while this investigation aims to present persuasive arguments for Buddhist influences on Christianity, it inherently recognizes the speculative nature of such a thesis.

SPICE TRADE AND RELIGION
Since the era of Alexander the Great, a vibrant spice trade has flourished between the Greeks and India, symbolizing a broader exchange far beyond mere commodities. The Silk Road, renowned for its commercial significance, functioned as a dynamic conduit for the exchange of ideas and cultural practices, potentially extending to the philosophical and spiritual concepts that influenced early Christianity. The impact of this trade is metaphorically akin to the Roman culinary adaptation of Indian spices. The Roman Empire's spice trade with India began following the conquest of Egypt by Augustus in 30 BCE. This conquest opened up new trade routes and opportunities, significantly impacting the scope and nature of the spice trade between these two regions. The introduction of these exotic flavors didn't lead to the Romans directly replicating Indian cuisine; rather, it inspired a transformative fusion within their own culinary traditions, creating something uniquely new while retaining a Roman essence.
 
This analogy serves as a potent metaphor for the potential cross-pollination of religious ideas. Just as spices subtly yet significantly altered Roman cuisine, it is plausible to suggest that the religious and philosophical ideas traveling along these trade routes might have similarly 'spiced up' the religious and cultural life in the Western reaches of these networks. Buddhism, which had already established a wide presence in Asia by the time of these exchanges, could have feasibly left subtle imprints on the evolving religious thoughts in the West.

Thus, in this context, the suggestion that emerging Western religious thought, particularly early Christianity, could have been influenced by Eastern philosophies like Buddhism becomes a compelling hypothesis. It proposes a scenario where the essence of Christianity is preserved, yet it is enriched and subtly transformed by the infusion of ideas and concepts borne along the Silk Road, mirroring the culinary metamorphosis induced by the spice trade.
 

Buddhism's Influence on Christianity: Subtle and Overlooked
The subtle impact of Buddhism on Christianity is partly due to Buddhism's understated, decentralized spread. Its peaceful dissemination, focused on universal moral teachings rather than charismatic leaders, is less apparent in historical records compared to the more overt conversion efforts of later Christian and Islamic missions. This makes Buddhism's influence on other religions, including Christianity, more elusive and difficult to document.

THE FOLCLORIC SPREAD OF THE JATAKA TALES
As dusk fell upon the caravanserais connecting the East with the West, the glow of firelight became the backdrop for storytelling. Since the time of the Buddha, oral folkloric spread tales evolved on the Gangetic plains. These tales are today known as the 

As twilight descended on the caravanserais bridging East and West, the flicker of firelight set the stage for storytelling. These tales, originating from the Buddha's era on the Gangetic plains, are known today as the Jataka tales. Laden with moral teachings, they provided more than just entertainment for travelers; they spread Buddhism's ethical principles. This dissemination wasn't just of religious doctrine but a universal ethos of kindness and morality, adaptable across various cultures. The Jataka tales' universal themes of ethical behavior resonated deeply along the Silk Road, interweaving into diverse spiritual traditions and nurturing a rich cultural exchange.

The Jataka tales, a cornerstone of oral tradition, linked distant civilizations, traveling with caravans from India to Persia and even to Scandinavia. In Denmark, for instance, the Molbo tales, according to prefatory notes in collections of these stories, are believed to have roots in the Jataka narratives. While specific cultural elements like caste distinctions didn't transfer to Danish versions, the core storytelling principles endured. The Danish Molbo tales adapt these narratives, replacing the 'ignorant' Brahmins with 'naive' Molboes, preserving the Jataka's original narrative structures. This adaptation maintains the satirical humor intended to evoke laughter, demonstrating how the core structure and purpose of the Jataka tales have been retained and localized in Danish folklore.
 
Holberg's "Jeppe on the Mountain": A Tale of Two Interpretations
From oral traditions these wandering tales made their way into litterature and drama. The Danish author and enlightenment philosopher, Ludvig Holberg's "Jeppe on the Mountain" serves as an especially interesting example of cultural adaptation. According to Kaare Foss in "Konge for en dag" ("King for a Day"), Ludvig Holberg's "Jeppe på Bjerget" ("Jeppe of the Hill") serves as example of how stories adapt and evolve across cultures and epochs. In Holberg's rendition, Jeppe, a poor and humble man, awakens to find himself in the luxurious circumstances of a baron. This story traces its lineage back through various European adaptations to "One Thousand and One Nights," a collection with Persian origins. Even further back, the narrative can be traced to Indian Jataka tales where the protagonist, usually a poor man, wakes up in a palace, suddenly a maharaja (king).

The original Indian version focuses on the moral theme of "maya," or illusion. It poses a question: are you a beggar dreaming you're a king, or a king dreaming you're a beggar? This foundational concept is, interestingly, lost in the earliest European adaptations. These versions more reflect the nobility's disdain for the aspirations of the lower classesrather than the philosophical concept of illusion.
The moral in Holberg's unique adaptation, centers on the dangers of role-swapping and the inadequacies of a commoner impersonating a nobleman. Thus, the same story reflects different cultural values and concerns when it travels.
   
A Complex Web of Narratives
Even Hans Christian Andersen's famous tale "The Emperor's New Clothes" echoes this ancient exchange. Its moral lesson about a child's innocence piercing through social pretense finds its parallel in Indian traditions of wearing very fine silk, so fine that it is almost invisible.
 
The Emperor's New Clothes has long been cited as a classic fable cautioning against vanity and the unwillingness to face uncomfortable truths. In this story, the emperor, swayed by his own vanity and the cunning of his advisors, parades naked in the belief that he is wearing "invisible" clothes visible only to the wise and competent.

While this story often is read as a unique product of European folklore, it shares intriguing parallels with older traditions traceable to the Silk Road's influence. One such connection lies in the material said to be used for the emperor's "new clothes" — a fabric so fine and luxurious that it appears invisible. This aspect of the tale have roots in ancient Indian traditions around silk clothing.

In Buddhist iconography, religious figures are sometimes depicted wearing extremely fine silk, so delicate that it renders them almost unclothed. This portrayal, where their forms are subtly draped, implies that the fabric's fineness is a symbol of spiritual significance. The concept of "shunyata" or spiritual emptiness is mirrored in these almost non-existent garments, creating a paradox where a dress so valuable essentially becomes invisible, symbolizing kingly renunciation. This juxtaposition of opposites — value and non-existence — serves as a metaphor for spiritual enlightenment and renunciation in Buddhist thought.

This intriguing paradox resonates through history, including into the Mughal period. For instance, Emperor Akbar once reproached his daughter for appearing naked before him. Her response revealed a subtle cultural nuance: she was actually adorned in three layers of extremely fine silk. This incident highlights the cultural and historical continuity of the value placed on fine, almost imperceptible silk, embodying a blend of modesty, luxury, and the nuanced perceptions of material and appearance in different cultural contexts.

The enduring legacies and widespread influence of these cultural constructs demonstrate the deep interconnectivity of the ancient world. This interconnectedness is evident both historically and geographically, revealing a rich tapestry of cultural exchanges that transcended regional and temporal boundaries.
 
Jesus and Buddha: Icons in Pan-viral Storytelling
Is Christian baptism rooted in ancient river cultures? In India, a timeless realm, millions still perform baptism-like rituals in the Ganges at Varanasi.

Religious ideas, like water, flow through time and space, morphing to fit the cultural terrains they traverse. Religions and their leaders are thus adaptive reconstructions, crafted from pre-existing elements. Figures like Jesus and Buddha emerge from these ideological streams, embodying humanly shaped channels of thought.

To illustrate the transmutation of stories across cultures, consider the tale of a clever young man from the reign of the Indian Emperor Akbar in the 16th Century, which later became associated with the Danish King Christian IV in the 17th Century. In the Indian narrative, a bright youth impresses Akbar with his wit at a crossroads and is subsequently invited to the royal palace at Fatehpur Sikri. Upon his arrival, he is extorted by a guard demanding half of whatever reward he receives from the emperor. Cunningly, the young man requests 100 lashes from Akbar, who, upon understanding the situation, admires the young man's ingenuity and offers him a position in his ministry instead.

In Denmark, a tale echoes this pattern with King Christian IV. He is said to have rescued a young man who fell through the ice between Copenhagen and Malmø. In the court, an event unfolds reminiscent of the Fatehpur Sikri story, including a guard confiscating the young man's diamond ring and his subsequent request for 100 lashes. Within 50 years, this narrative, perhaps an amalgamation of the Danish king's rescue and Akbar's tale, evolved to depict Christian IV as a generous ruler. This illustrates how stories like that of Jesus may have similarly evolved through such amalgamations.

 
ACADEMIC EUROCENTRISM IN RELIGIOUS STUDIES
In the scholarly investigation of world religions, there seems to be a discernible hesitancy within academia to fully explore the interplay and influence of stories and philosophies across different cultures. Unlike the field of world literature, where scholars like Professor Kåre Foss readily trace literary influences from the Gangetic plains to Scandinavia, religious studies often exhibit a contrasting approach. This field appears less inclined to acknowledge or investigate the potential cross-cultural fertilization of religious ideas and narratives.

The strong resistance within academic circles to theories like those proposed by Dr. Phil Christian Lindtner, concerning the origins of Christianity in Buddhism, may stem from a combination of both justified scientific skepticism and less objective factors. While Lindtner's hypotheses might be oversimplified in their approach, the vehement opposition they encounter points to a deeper issue within the field. This resistance suggests a complexity in academic discourse that transcends simple scholarly disagreement.

It is worth questioning if institutional biases and collective pride in Western academia might lead to reluctance in considering theories of significant Eastern influences on Western religious thought. This resistance could contradict Occam's Razor, favoring simpler explanations. The challenge lies in using the lack of evidence as a reason to dismiss discussions about Buddhist-Christian links, especially when this absence might stem from the same unwillingness to explore these connections.
 
The teachings of Buddha, who noted the human tendency to easily recognize others' faults while overlooking one's own, find a parallel in Jesus' metaphor of noticing the splinter in another's eye but not the log in one’s own. This analogy raises a critical question about the introspective capacity of Western academia. Are scholars in the West, like their counterparts in other parts of the world, potentially influenced by their own cultural and emotional biases, thus hindering a more objective understanding of religious history?

For instance, the rise of the Hindutva movement in India and its impact on historical interpretation by Indian historians highlights the influence of political ideologies on academic research. This leads us to ponder whether Western academia, too, might be unconsciously shaped by its own cultural narratives and biases, thus affecting its openness to theories that challenge Eurocentric views of religious development.
 
This trend highlights a broader issue in Western religious scholarship: a hesitance to fully recognize external cultural influences. This tendency to perceive Western religious traditions as largely self-developed extends to underestimating the profound influence of Islamic science and culture on European thought. Such a Eurocentric perspective overlooks the rich tapestry of intercultural exchanges that have shaped civilizations.

"...the task of theology (in the university) is to make us hold unto the object of faith...Jesus Christ, (who) goes before and lies outside the Biblical writings......" Mogens "Menschensohn" Müller, leading Copenhagen professor of the New Testament, in Kristeligt Dagblad, 9-5-2014 - Quoted from Jesusisbuddha.com

In this context, it's pertinent to observe that the academic study of religion often presents a unique intersection where science and belief intermingle, perhaps more than is ideal. It's rare for atheists to deeply engage in religious studies, which may indicate that this field, striving for scientific legitimacy, often harbors scholars with inherent religious beliefs. This duality potentially influences their academic pursuits, unlike in fields like chemistry, where personal beliefs are less likely to intersect with scientific inquiry. Thus, in religious studies, scholars may find themselves navigating between scientific objectivity and personal faith.

This issue is crucial in historical and religious scholarship, where researchers' personal beliefs and cultural backgrounds could influence their interpretations, notably in the study of links between Buddhism and Christianity. Take, for example, Paula Fredriksen, a renowned historian in early Judaism and Christianity. Originally a Catholic, she later converted to Judaism. This aspect of her personal religious journey offers insight into her scholarly approach, particularly if her work reflects a denial of Eastern influences on early Christianity. It raises questions about whether such perspectives might be influenced by personal religious convictions.
 
Often, Western scholars question the link between Christianity and Buddhism, citing fundamental doctrinal differences. However, the interaction between Hinduism's Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism demonstrates that significant differences in belief systems don't preclude mutual influence. These traditions, despite their distinct philosophies, have influenced each other, particularly in metaphysical and spiritual practices.

This suggests that historical and cultural exchanges between religions or philosophies can happen despite significant doctrinal differences. The evolution of religious and philosophical thought often involves a complex mix of adopting, adapting, and sometimes challenging elements from other systems. Thus, the argument that fundamental differences between Buddhism and Christianity negate the possibility of influence is not necessarily definitive. Exchange and adaptation of ideas can coexist with, or even arise because of these differences.

The prevalent dismissal of Buddhist influences on Jesus by Western scholars may furthermore stem from their general lack of proficiency in Sanskrit, Pali, and Tibetan, as well as a limited understanding of ancient Asian cultures.

How does one prove that something is a copy of something else? Surely, one must have the original as well as the copy at hand. Scholars have failed to identify Q (the primary source) simply because they did not consider reading MSV (Mûlasarvâstivâdavinaya) and SDP (Saddharmapundarîka) in the original Sanskrit. It is as simple as that. - Lindtner, Jesusisbuddha.com

This gap in expertise suggests a need for a more open reception to the insights of specialists like Lindtner, who possess extensive knowledge in these areas, from language to history. Embracing such expertise could offer a more nuanced and comprehensive perspective on the historical interplay between these two great religious traditions.

The Silk Roads, as a nexus of intercultural exchange, played a crucial role in this process, facilitating a dynamic interchange of ideas, practices, and beliefs. They contributed significantly to our understanding of religious developments, including the ascetic elements within Christianity. As ideas and practices traversed cultures, they tended to evolve and amalgamate, forming hybrid traditions rather than direct transpositions.

Occam's Razor, which posits that the simplest explanation is often the correct one, would suggest that the extensive network of the Silk Roads naturally facilitated the exchange and adaptation of religious and cultural practices. It would be an oversimplification to assume that influences between East and West were unidirectional or that they did not significantly impact the religious and cultural landscapes they connected.

The responsibility of scholars, then, is to investigate why these major trade routes did not facilitate more apparent cultural exchanges, rather than merely attempting to prove a direct link. The absence of such a cultural interplay along these significant routes would be quite remarkable.
 
The pattern observed in Christian scholarship, where there's a tendency to deny or overlook Buddhist influence, appears to be repeating in the study of Greek influence in India. This suggests a recurring theme in historical research where the extent of intercultural influences is often underestimated or unacknowledged.


This terracotta sculpture represents a remarkable confluence of Greek and Indian artistic traditions, typical of the Greco-Buddhist art from the Gandhara region. The hairstyle is elaborate, indicative of Indian artistic influence, with curls and patterns that may reflect the sophisticated sculptural Indian styles of the Mauryan period. The half-closed eyes, denoting a meditative state, are a common element in Buddhist representations, conveying inner tranquility and spiritual introspection. The forehead bears a third eye mark with three rings, suggesting a connection to the Buddhist trinity, the Borromean rings of TRi-RaTNaS. Her elongated earlobes, another hallmark of Buddha representations, denote wisdom and a departure from worldly possessions. Notably, the sculpture includes a nose ring, an adornment that is not typically found in Greek art, suggesting a strong Indian cultural element. This detail adds to the overall synthesis of the figure, marrying local traditions with foreign influences. The nose ring could signify marital status, fashion, or even spiritual significance within Indian culture. Additionally, the full lips, pronounced chin, and the sensual yet contemplative expression are reminiscent of Greek sculptural art, known for its realistic portrayal of human subjects. The combination of Hellenistic realism with Indian symbolism results in a sculpture that is both physically alluring and spiritually resonant. This piece stands as a testament to the cultural dialogue facilitated by the Silk Road, where Greek realism met and melded with the spiritual iconography of Indian art.

Johanna Hanink's interpretation of Greco-Buddhism as a reflection of European scholarly reluctance to acknowledge native contributions to the "pleasing proportions and elegant poses of sculptures from ancient Gandhara," as noted by Michael Falser, challenges the notion of "Buddhist art with a Greek 'essence'" as a colonial construct emerging during British rule in India. This perspective, as it intersects with the depiction of the Indian woman, introduces a contentious angle in scholarly interpretation, where the debate shifts from religious bias to what could be perceived as left-wing political agendas. In this light, it's not merely old European colonial perspectives painting Indian art with Greek hues, but a modern inclination to dismantle our colonial history under a lens of guilt. These views, arguably 'woke,' represent another form of colonial imposition, marked by an unrecognized Western ignorance of Eastern history. This approach reframes cultural exchange as cultural appropriation, seen solely through the prism of power and dominance, further complicating our understanding of historical intercultural interactions
 
The above depiction's specific features is evidence of  a direct representation of the cultural syncretism in the Seleucid Empire. This might suggest to scholars like Hanink or Falser that cultural intermingling was (and is) a complex, two-way process, with influences flowing in both directions, rather than a simple case of colonial imposition.
 
The overall environment of cultural synthesis provided by the Silk Roads created an atmosphere where similar spiritual expressions arose over thousands of kilometers. Thus, a more inclusive historical view recognizes the Silk Roads not just as trade routes but as channels for a dynamic cultural and religious dialogue that has shaped the world in more ways than is credited.

This perspective offers a valuable counterpoint to the traditional nation-centric view of historical development. The concept of "countries" as we understand them today is a relatively recent development in human history, and their borders have often been fluid and subject to change. In contrast, trade routes such as the Silk Roads predate many modern nations and have served as continuous channels for interaction and exchange for millennia.
 
In accordance, the coming text will view trade routes as cultural entities in their own right, fostering a level of cultural homogeneity that might surpass that of the countries they pass through. These routes acted as arteries of commerce, yes, but also of ideas, religions, languages, art, and technologies. As such, they could cultivate their own unique cultures, which were defined not by national borders but by the flow of goods and knowledge.

The Silk Roads as a Civilizational Zone
The Silk Roads connected a series of civilizations from the Chinese Han Empire to the Mediterranean, creating a supercultural zone where East and West could meet and mingle in ways that transcended the political or cultural policies of any single empire or nation-state along its length. The result was a kind of Silk Road culture that, while not homogenous in the strictest sense, shared a set of common values, practices, and understandings shaped by the necessities of trade and the exchange of ideas.

This perspective aligns with the concept of "cultural spheres" or "civilizational zones," where the defining characteristics of a region's culture are not determined by the political boundaries of states, but by the historical, geographical, and cultural ties that bind different peoples together. It suggests a view of history as a tapestry woven from threads of human interaction that are often far broader and more complex than national narratives allow for.

The adage "follow the money" aptly applies to the Silk Road's cultural dynamics. This ancient trade network fostered a shared civilizational experience marked by fluidity and openness to external influences, contrasting with the more rigid structures of nation-states. In this context, the cultures along the Silk Road prioritized connectivity and mutual influence, favoring a collective development over isolation and independent growth. This perspective underscores the significant role of trade and economic interactions in shaping cultural and historical landscapes.

 
ALEXANDER THE GREAT IN INDIA
The key influence in the ongoing construction of Buddhism was the introduction of Greek philosophy. Homer was translated into Indian languages, and the story of the Trojan Horse became part of the folklore on the Ganges plains.

However, the influence also went the other way, as far back as to Greece. Alexander the Great, in addition to his formidable military skills, was philosophically inclined. His father, Philip of Macedonia, brought Aristotle from Athens to tutor Alexander. Alexander chose prominent philosophers Pyrrho, Anaxarchus, and Onesicritus to accompany him on his conquest of India.

The Cultural Openness of Alexander
Generally, Greek culture was unimpressed and often disinterested in foreign philosophies and religions. Gods of other lands were traditionally understood not on their own terms but as locally adapted Greek gods. Thus, the Indian god Krishna became Hercules. From Aristotle's Macedonian-Greek perspective, barbarians, those who did not speak Greek, were lower beings whom the Greeks were meant to rule over. The idea of seeking philosophical inspiration outside Greece seemed unlikely.

However, in this respect, it is of crucial importance to mention the following: Alexander did not follow his tutor Aristotle's opinions in this regard. The respect Alexander showed for Persian and Egyptian culture was almost heretical in this context, and this openness paved the way for Greek philosophers' unusual respect and attentiveness towards India's naked ascetics, whom the Greeks called gymnosophists. Where Greek philosophers often provoked disgust in other cultures for their tradition of philosophizing naked, they met in India's ascetics a culture that practiced the same form of philosophical nudity.
 
Onesicritus and the sun's naked sages
Onesicritus, a student of Diogenes, had remarkable encounters with Indian sages, the gymnosophists. In Taxila, he met a group of naked sages on a small hill in the scorching midday sun. Their demand for him to undress as a condition for discussion probably seemed familiar, as Greek philosophers also had the habit of discussing naked. The fact that Indian sages sat unimpressed in the burning sun and only wanted to discuss here earned Onesicritus' respect but was not alien to a man whose mentor was Diogenes in the barrel.
Diogenes, as the archetype of the provocative holy fool who scornfully sat outside society's rules, would undoubtedly be recognized by India's wise men.


This Bactrian terracotta figurine embodies the fusion of Hellenistic and indigenous artistic influences. The figure's posture and stylized wings echo Greek representations of deities and mythological figures, such as Eros or Nike. The facial features, with a prominent beard and detailed hair, resonate with the classical Greek style of portraying mature male figures, emphasizing individuality and expression. The craftsmanship and the figure's attire, including the drapery's folds, reveal a Hellenistic touch, a common trait in the region's iconography following Alexander the Great's incursion into Central Asia and the subsequent cultural syncretism.

The terra cotta figure from Bactria shares several parallels with depictions of Diogenes, the Greek philosopher: Cynic Philosophy Representation: Diogenes is often depicted in a simple cloak, embodying the Cynic philosophy of living in accordance with nature and rejecting material possessions. The figure's simple attire may reflect this philosophy. Ascetic Lifestyle: Diogenes was known for his ascetic lifestyle, which is also a common theme in Buddhist representations. The figure's modest clothing and humble posture could symbolize a similar asceticism. Beard and Hair: The detailed beard and hair are reminiscent of classical Greek depictions of philosophers, among whom Diogenes is one of the most iconic. Posture and Expression: Diogenes was famous for his provocative actions and disdain for societal norms. The seated posture and the facial expression of the figure, which could be interpreted as contemplative or challenging, might draw a parallel to Diogenes' own public demeanor. Wings: While Diogenes himself was not associated with wings, the Greek god Hermes was, and he was a messenger who traversed between the divine and mortal worlds. Diogenes' philosophy attempted to transcend conventional life, which could be symbolically represented by wings. These elements combined may suggest a fusion of Greek philosophical iconography with local Bactrian cultural motifs, portraying a figure that echoes the spirit of Diogenes in a new cultural context.

Visiting the sacred city of Varanasi, one often meets Indian sadhus, modern embodiments of the ancient philosopher Diogenes. The terracotta figure, similar to numerous others, serves as a testament to these encounters. These interactions, where the lifestyles of Indian ascetics affirmed the principles of Diogenes, became ingrained in the cultural memory of both Greek and later European societies, honoring the wisdom of Indian gymnosophists. Subsequently, figures such as the English Puritans recognized these sages as precursors to their own ascetic practices.
 
Calanus - the army's sage
There are many indirect indicators of this compatibility between Greek and Indian culture. That philosophers from the two cultures could meet in dialogue is perhaps natural, but even the ordinary soldier in Alexander's army could apparently respectfully recognize the Indian ascetic's lifestyle and value norms.

A naked sadhu from Taxila, named by the Greeks as Calanus, had just completed his obligatory 37 years as a hermit and was now free to do what he wanted. He joined Alexander and became a popular mascot for the army. Calanus became the army's guru, giving satsang, i.e., teaching officers and soldiers in the army his philosophy. The extent to which the army had taken the naked sadhu to their heart became clear when Calanus later decided to leave his body at the age of 79 in Susa, Persia, by burning himself alive in a dramatic ceremony, with Alexander and his entire army as spectators. As he was carried smiling into the flames, he was hailed by war cries and the trumpeting of elephants from Alexander's army. At this point, Calanus had become the army's spiritual guide, and his death was later taken by the army as a sign of Alexander's own too early death.

Considering the abundance of similar small terracotta figures discovered in Afghanistan, it is plausible to speculate that the depicted sadhu may represent Calanus.

Clearchus
The philosopher Clearchus of Soli, probably a student of Aristotle, traveled with wisdom from Delphi to Oxus in India and later described in his pamphlets philosophical duels between Greek philosophers and Indian sages, where he let Indian wisdom triumph over the Greek.
 
India's remembrance of Alexander
India has always understood itself through myths, through stories.
Even today in India, there are many folk tales about Alexander, especially his interest in India's philosophers, the wise sadhus.

To what extent Alexander's presence has influenced India can also be glimpsed through these still-living stories. I spent almost a year in the Indian state of Punjab, where it struck me how much the meeting with Alexander is still remembered by the people. In Punjab, I heard a man put another in his place by saying: In the end, you are no more worth than one of Porus's elephants. King Porus's elephant army was immediately defeated by Alexander upon his entry into India in 326.

THE SELEUCID EMPIRE
In the period following Alexander the Great's death, the Seleucid Empire, which encompassed much of the former Persian Empire, played a pivotal role in the cultural exchange between Hellenism and Buddhism. It was founded by Seleucus Nicator I (358 – 281 BC), a distinguished general of Alexander.

The Seleucid Openness
In noting the unique approach of Seleucus I Nicator, one of Alexander's successors, it's crucial to recognize his continuation of Alexander's 'un-Greek' respect and openness towards 'barbarians', conditional on their submission to his rule.

Seleucus I Nicator was among the few generals of Alexander who supported Alexander's deliberate policy of cultural amalgamation. This policy notably included the mass forced marriage of his officer corps to women from ocupied countries, especially from Persia, but later also from India. Remarkably, Seleucus' own marriage with the Sogdian noble woman, Apama, was one of the few such cross-cultural unions that survived Alexander's death.

This successful marriage set the tone for a Seleucid realm that was politically and militarily aggressive, but exceptionally tolerant in terms of cultural diversity. The son born from this mixed marriage, Antiochus I, was fully recognized by his father and played a significant role as a conciliator between the Persian elite and the emerging Hellenistic ruling class.

The Unique Geopolitical Conditions of the Seleucid Empire
The Seleucid Empire, in terms of sheer longitudinal span, was one of the most elongated empires of the ancient world. It stretched over 3,000 kilometers from the Aegean Sea in the west to the Indus Valley in the east, creating a vast territory that connected the Greek world with the rich cultures of the Near and Middle East and Central Asia.

The Seleucid Empire was known for its extraordinary religious tolerance and cultural openness. Stretching from India to Turkey, this empire provided a unique melting pot where diverse religious and cultural ideas could intermingle, potentially including the philosophical and spiritual tenets of Buddhism and early Christianity. As depicted in the accompanying map, it is quite apt to view the Seleucid Empire not just as a political entity but as a massive trading route in itself. The Empire acted as a bridge between the East and West, facilitating the flow of goods, cultures, ideas, and technologies across its vast expanse. It connected the Hellenistic world with the societies of Central Asia and the Indian subcontinent.

The Challenge of Ruling a Wast Territory
Unlike Ptolemy, another of Alexander's generals who took control of Egypt—a small but fertile part of Alexander's legacy—Seleucus faced entirely different challenges. He ruled over a vast territory that united diverse cultures including Sumer, Elam, Persia, Assyria, Phoenicia, Babylon, and later Asia Minor and Palestine. This required an exceptional ability and willingness to collaborate culturally.
 
No Seleucid Racial and Ethnic Exclusivity
This reflects why Cleopatra, who was of entirely Macedonian origin, contrasts with the rulers of the Seleucid Empire, who were an amalgamation of various cultures and ethnicities. This diversity among the Seleucid rulers highlights their openness to different backgrounds, differing from the more ethnically homogeneous leadership in other post-Alexandrian geographically much smaller empires.
 
Contrary to other post-Alexandrian empires, such as Ptolemaic Egypt, the Seleucid Empire did not have a racial exclusivity built into the highest echelons of its power structure. In this way, it continued Alexander's ingenious policy—a blend of localized feudalism and meritocratic governance. This approach allowed anyone, regardless of their non-Macedonian origin, to join the ranks of the powerful, provided they had earned it through merit or were of noble birth. However, a prerequisite for membership in this new elite circle was a mastery of the Greek language and culture.

Polis Cultures on a String from India to Greece
Recognizing that he couldn't consolidate his power solely by relying on pre-existing cities, Seleucus Nicator opted to build numerous new cities from scratch. These cities were vibrant centers of Hellenistic polis culture, infused with Macedonian-Greek traditions and civilization. Positioned like pearls on a string, they also served as caravanserais and linked India to the Middle East in a cultural exchange that lasted long after the collapse of the Seleucid Empire and its Bactrian and Indo-Greek successors.
 
Cultural Diffusion and Legacy in the Seleucid Empire
In the various Alexandrias and newly-founded Seleucias that dotted the landscape of the Seleucid Empire, Hellenistic culture became a marker of social capital. Speaking Greek and venerating Greek gods were not just exercises in spirituality or communication; they became synonymous with power and prosperity. Local indigenous groups and their leaders, even those situated far from the traditional Greek heartland, adopted the Greek language and partook in Greek theatrical productions as a form of cultural assimilation that had direct social and economic benefits.
 
A Second Wave of Hellenistic Migration
The formation of the Seleucid Empire facilitated a second wave of migration, distinct from the initial military expeditions. This time, the people who set out for new lands were not just soldiers but commoners—artisans, scribes, philosophers, and scientists from Macedonia and Greece. Their journey for a better life in the newly-established cities of the Seleucid Empire echoes the 19th-century mass migration to America. These new settlers left an indelible, albeit often overlooked, imprint on the cultural and intellectual landscape of the East.
 
The Seleucid experiment in cultural fusion had long-lasting implications, not just in terms of the flow of goods along the burgeoning trade routes, but also in the spread of ideas and traditions. It became a vibrant hub of cultural exchange, laying the foundation for future civilizations to build upon.

The Seleucid Empire seen as a Civilizational Zone
Examining historical examples, the Seleucid Empire emerges as a key illustration of the civilizational zones concept. This empire, a confluence of diverse languages and cultures, demonstrates the intricate dynamics of cultural and historical evolution in vast empires. Analysis of the Seleucid Empire through the lens of civilizational zones highlights how varied cultural and linguistic groups were unified and interacted under its expansive rule, weaving an intricate tapestry of interconnected histories.

Intriguingly, within this context, a form of abstract universal goodness, akin to Buddhist principles, emerged as the lingua franca, facilitating cohesion and communication across this vast empire, and exemplifying the significant role of shared philosophical and ethical frameworks in the unification of large and diverse territories.
 
THE MAURYAN EMPIRE
In India itself, the rise of power centers during the contemporary Mauryan dynasty led to the creation of wealthy Gangetic mega-cities. This urbanization necessitated, like the case was in the Seleucid Empire, a state capable of overseeing long-distance trade and production. Elements of the warrior caste evolved into a new state caste, focused on the ever-growing need to regulate trade and infrastructure.

Chandragupta Maurya: India's Great Low-Caste King
Chandragupta Maurya (340-298 BCE), the grandfather of Ashoka, was a man of humble origins, born into the shudra, the lowest caste in the societal hierarchy. Alongside Chanakya, a Brahmin who felt betrayed by his own caste, Chandragupta orchestrated a social revolution that dethroned the preceding Nanda dynasty. This marked the inception of the formidable Mauryan empire.
 
The Seleucid ambassador Megasthenes meticulously documented the Mauryan dynasty around 300 BCE while residing at Chandragupta's court in the capital, Pataliputra—now modern-day Patna, in the Indian state of Bihar.
 
Chandragupta's rise to power coincided with Alexander the Great's arrival in Northwestern India in 326 BCE. Ancient historians recount that Dhana Nanda, the ruler of the Nanda dynasty, was despised in his own country for his low birth. Alexander received emissaries from the disgruntled Brahmin caste who offered assistance in overthrowing Dhana Nanda. However, Alexander had to abandon his conquest plans when his own army rebelled against marching further into India.
 
Both the Nanda and Maurya dynasties were led by individuals from the lower rungs of the Indian caste system. It is plausible to consider these low-caste dynasties as products of the social chaos induced by the affluent cities along the Ganges and Alexander's military disruption of the North-western region of India.
 
Chandragupta's encounter with Alexander's campaign was pivotal. The prevalence of both the Nanda and Mauryan dynasties underscored how the emergence of Buddhism coincided with a period of social upheaval that especially disrupted the established caste system.

The Persian Legacy
For thousands of years, Persian culture has exerted a significant impact on Northern India. The formidable Persian Empire repeatedly extended its reach into the northwestern regions of the Indian subcontinent. A testament to this influence is the very name 'India' itself, which derives from the Persian inability to pronounce the letter 's,' transforming 'Sindh,' a province in what is now Pakistan, into 'Hindh.' This linguistic adaptation gave rise to the terms 'Hindustan' and 'Hindus,' underscoring the depth of Persian cultural imprint on India.
 
Northern India, particularly in the period just before the rise of the Mauryan dynasty, received significant civilizational inputs from the most powerful empire of the time, the Achaemenid Persia. The Persians utilized the social fragmentation of the caste system to efficiently divide and conquer. It is reasonable to speculate that the low-caste kings like Chandragupta received aid from Achaemenid Persia, which sought buffer states along its eastern borders.
 
Chandragupta's realm was situated in what is today the state of Bihar, a region that has retained a stronger Persian influence than any other Indian states, an influence that is still evident today.
 
Chandragupta and Chanakya's military strength could only have originated from Persian military forces, particularly the fragmented units that roamed into India during the chaos following both Alexander's conquests and later his death.

Once Chandragupta had consolidated power, he modeled his governance after Persian prototypes, even positioning himself as an Indian replica of a Persian king. Numerous examples illustrate the Mauryan dynasty's flirtation with Persian culture. Chandragupta even had a cadre of female Amazonian warriors, much like his Persian contemporaries. Early administrative scripts in India also owe a debt to Achaemenid Persia. Chandragupta's palaces were also constructed in accordance with Persian prototypes. Reflecting on the ruins of the Mauryan palaces in Patna, Rowland notes:

"The first indication of the tremendous influence exerted on Mauryan India by the art of the Achaemenid Empire ... the conscious adoption of the Iranian palace plan by the Mauryas was only part of the paraphernalia of imperialism imported from the West."

We might surmise that Chandragupta, being an outsider to the Indian caste system, felt little obligation to continue the cultural traditions of his predecessors, making it easier for him to build his ideology and power structure from an eclectic perspective.
 
Thus, Chandragupta Maurya was not just a great king who ascended from the lowest echelons of society; he was a transformative figure whose rule was significantly influenced by external cultures, particularly Persia, which allowed him to challenge and overturn the traditional caste hierarchies in India. This overturn pawed the way for long-distance trade and urban life to flourish.
 
THE MAURYAN-SELEUCID PEACE AGREEMENT
An important condition for the caravaic expansion was the good relations between the Seleucid and the Mauryan empire. Following Alexander the Great's conquests, the Seleucid Empire, among the most influential successors, adopted a strategy of guardedness towards the west but showed an inviting openness towards the east. It's in this eastern realm that they encountered the Mauryan Empire.
 

The unique survival strategy of the Seleucid Empire hinged on Seleucus I Nicator's remarkable ability—honed in the days of Alexander the Great—to build cultural bridges which again translated into trading bridges. The turning point for the empire's destiny was its encounter with India. Originally beginning as a military confrontation in 305 BCE, it evolved into a harmonious cultural exchange with the powerful Maurya Dynasty. As a symbol of peace and friendship, Seleucus arranged the marriage of his daughter to Chandragupta Maurya, forming an alliance that would last for generations. In this exchange, Seleucus ceded territories up to the Hindu Kush mountains, while receiving 500 war elephants in return. These elephants later proved to be a decisive force in the pivotal Battle of Ipsus in Turkey in 301 BCE. The Seleucid strategy henceforth involved peace towards the east and war to the west.

Chandragupta, aligned with the social openness of Seleucus Nicator, granted Greeks in Kandahar the right to marry into any Indian caste, highlighting a softened stance towards the Brahminical caste system during the Mauryan period.

The peace treaty had a profound impact on the later rise of the Ashokan-Mauryan Dynasty as the world's first and largest "peace empire." Shielded by his Macedonian friends to the northwest, Ashoka could safely convert his empire to the non-violence of Buddhism, even implementing laws for animal welfare. Without the predeceding Seleucid-Maurya alliance, Ashoka's benevolent rule and the expansion of Buddhism would have been impossible.
 
The Mauryan Openness versus the Exclusiveness of the Brahmans
The Brahmans, traditional custodians of Indian knowledge, exhibited a reluctance to engage with foreign cultures, as captured by Sir William Jones' observation that the Brahmans seldom borrowed from Greeks or Arabs:

The Brahmans are always too proud to borrow their
science from the Greeks, Arabs or any nation of the
Mlechchas as they call those who are ignorant of the Vedas.

Yet, the cultural panorama had changed in India under the Mauryan Empire. Brahmins were loosing power. Chandragupta Maurya, having interacted with Alexander's Greeks, appreciated Hellenistic influences. His disruptive Persian ouview together with his lower cast background pawed the way for curiosity and social experimantation. Chandragupta's religious outview was furthermore rooted in Janism, an Indian minority religion that lived outside the laws' of Manu's cast system.
 
At the previous mentioned peace agreement in 305 B.C., Chandragupta's acquisition of territory up to Hindu Kush, also incuded the annexation of the Greek city of Alexandria Arachosia (modern-day Kandahar or Gandhara in Persian) Chandragupta allowed it to flourish under Hellenistic ideals.

Cultural Synthesis
The Seleucid-Indian friendship led to the flow of Indian wisdom into the Seleucid Empire, while Hellenistic wisdom enriched Northwestern India. In this cross-cultural melting pot, new Greco-Indian syncretic religions began to emerge, most notably Buddhist culture blending harmoniously with Hellenism. 
Kandahar became an important center of cultural fusion. This city and the smaller cities around it, rich in Hellenistic art and architecture, became significant nexuses between Indian and Hellenistic culture.

Lasting Impact from the first Seleucid-Indian Alliance
The Mauryan ethos, free from the constraints of caste, readily imbibed Hellenistic influences, as seen in evolving Indian statuary and art. Centuries after Alexander, Greek statues of Zeus, Odysses and Pericles were seen alongside various depictions of Buddha and Indian Gods.
 
The cross-cultural friendship ensured that the Mauryan Dynasty would maintain a cordial diplomatic relationship with the Seleucid Empire. Seleucus sent an ambassador named Megasthenes to Chandragupta's court in Pataliputra. Successive Mauryan rulers like Bindusara and Ashoka continued these diplomatic relations through exchange of ambassadors.

Though the sprawling Seleucid Empire was eventually replaced by a series of smaller Greek states, the original Greek-Indian alliance significantly shaped the region from India to the Middle East for centuries.
 
ASHOKA THE GREAT
It is indeed remarkable how the influence of one of the world's largest empires has been overlooked in Western historiography. Only the author H.G. Wells seems to afford Ashoka the recognition he deserves, stating:

"His (Ashoka's) reign for eight-and-twenty years was one of
the brightest interludes in the troubled history of mankind."

In the era preceding the end of the Punic Wars, which heralded the rise of the mighty Roman Empire, and after Macedonia had lost its leading role with the death of Alexander the Great, a new and powerful India emerged. This resurgence was fueled by flourishing trade, skilled craftsmanship, and agriculture.
  
Ashoka, the grandson of Chandragupta Maurya, is revered as one of the greatest and most enlightened rulers in Indian history. His reign marks the zenith of the Mauryan dynasty. Initially known as "Ashoka the Terrible" in his impetuous youth, he was a ruthless warlord who expanded his territory while orchestrating a brutal campaign against Brahmins and Buddhists alike. The bounty for a severed head of a Brahmin was a staggering 100 dinars.
  
However, Ashoka underwent a profound transformation after converting to Buddhism. His rule brought peace, order, and systematic governance to a vast Indian empire that stretched from southern India to Burma in the east and as far west as the eastern parts of Persia.
 
Following a period of extreme violence, including the devastating Kalinga war, Ashoka's empire metamorphosed into the world's first humanitarian superstate. He crafted a realm that thrived through wisdom and moral authority rather than the force of the sword.
 
Ashoka's governance followed a pattern that would later become a historical archetype for warlords who, after consolidating their power, ushered in long periods of peace and prosperity.Inheriting the Mauryan dynasty's liberal policies, inspired by Persian governance, Ashoka allowed social mobility based on merit, rather than caste or religious affiliation. While the caste system remained in place, it lost the rigidity that characterized it before and after this period in Indian history. Ashoka's transformative reign remains a pivotal chapter in Indian history, highlighting the enduring impact of ethical leadership and the unifying power of shared humanitarian values.

Long-distance Infrastructure
A key factor in the rise and consolidation of this expansive empire was the construction of an elaborate network of roads. These roads acted as the lifeblood of the empire, connecting India's multi-ethnic and multicultural tapestry into a cohesive unit.
 
In this period the trade routes expanded to such an extent that it became impossible to guard them against attacks through state governed policing power. Ashoka 'realized' that control over the mind is much more efficient than control over the body when it comes down to the securing of peace in inter-dependent trading mega-cities. Hence Buddhism became suitable as a state religion.
 

The Rise of Ashoka-Buddhism
Before Ashoka, Buddha was regarded as not much more than a local hero among hundred other saints on the Gangetic plains. However, under Ashoka's reign, Buddhism entered an unprecedented period of expansion. Despite its limited spread and influence in the first few centuries after Buddha, it wasn't until Ashoka's conversion to Buddhism around 250 BCE that this religion gained significant momentum. This momentum eventually propelled Buddhism into becoming one of the world's major religions.
 
During this period Buddhism transformed into a pragmatic state religion. The individual quest for Nirvana took a backseat to a state-sponsored moral doctrine. This doctrine was particularly tailored for the prosperous city-dwellers, merchants and artisans, keeping in mind the diverse feudal mini-states that made up most of India at the time.
 
With Ashoka's conversion, a global dissemination of the revolutionary and still-relevant teachings of the Buddha began. Ashoka initiated a large-scale missionary effort based on Buddha's own call for spreading the faith, a mission anchored in the power of example:

"Oh Monks! Travel far and wide to benefit many, out of compassion for the world, for the advantage of gods and mortals alike. And let not two of you take the same route. Preach the doctrine that leads to goodness. Preach it in spirit and in letter. Show through your own immaculate lives how religious life ought to be lived." (Buddha)


Buddhism's missionary routes

In Ashoka's version of missionary Buddhism, the focus lay on practical tenets for everyday living rather than intricate philosophical discourse or deification of the Buddha. The teachings emphasized the essence of the philosophy over the personage of the Buddha himself.

The Universities of Taxila and Nalanda
During Ashoka's peaceful reign, the early formations of university culture began to surface. Taxila, a city that flourished in this period, became a global center for intellectual thought. Frequently referenced in Buddhist Jataka tales, Taxila exemplifies how intellectual and spiritual ideas managed to permeate all levels of society. The city symbolized the inclusiveness of Buddhism under Ashoka, uniting elite and commoner through shared spiritual practices. Similarly, Nalanda University in the vicinity of Patna would later take up the torch, profoundly shaping Buddhism even up to the Gupta era.

The Ashokan Pillars
Inspired by Persian aesthetics, Ashoka erected towering 15-meter sandstone pillars across his kingdom. Some were adorned with four lion heads symbolically
proclaiming the Buddha's teachings of Dharma in all directions. These pillars were engraved with easily digestible moral principles, as encapsulated in Ashoka Pillar Edict Nb2 (S. Dharmika):

"Dharma is good,
but what constitutes Dharma?
It includes little evil, much good, kindness,
generosity, truthfulness and purity."
Ashoka Pilar Edict Nb2 (S. Dharmika)

In an unprecedented move, Ashoka also had his edicts inscribed in impeccable Greek, targeting regions under Hellenistic control.

No Personality Cult
Ashoka's edicts made no mention of Buddha, and there wasn't a single statue of Buddha from that time. The edicts emphasized practical life rules rather than theology. With the combined force of Ashoka's visionary Buddhism and the state's power, what might be termed the world's first secular state was born.
 
The state adopted a rational form of Buddhism, viewing it as an "enlightened" means of socio-spiritual regulation for life along trade routes and within cities. The growth of trade routes depended on wast geographic higway shaped areas of peace and trust, for without them, long distance trading caravans, often traversing hundred of kilometers without sufficient policing infrastucture risked robbery and collapse.

Emperor Ashoka, a paramount figure in the proliferation of Buddhism, is credited with the establishment of 84,000 stupas and a multitude of monasteries across his empire, strategically placed within bustling trade hubs to maximize their influence and accessibility. This monumental effort was not confined to his domain alone; evidence of such Buddhist structures extends as far as Persia and even Syria. Theravada texts from Sri Lanka notably mention a significant presence of Buddhist monastic communities in Syria, indicating the widespread reach of Buddhism during this period. This cross-cultural expansion reflects the far-reaching impact of Ashoka's missionary endeavors, disseminating Buddhist teachings well beyond the Indian subcontinent.
 
The Spread of Ashoka-Buddhism
Edicts on pillars, stupas, academic institutions, and state-endorsed monasteries and missionaries, all played a part  in the spread of Ashoka's practical moral teachings. This ethos of self-regulation was gently impressed upon both the caravan travelers and urban dwellers alike. Under Ashoka's guidance, Buddhism flourished, contributing to what could be considered the emergence of the world's inaugural secular governance. It became the civilizational adhesive that united a diverse populace, facilitating trade and communal harmony across vast expanses.

In this sense, Ashokan monasteries were not just religious retreats; they were training grounds for self-discipline, while the wandering monks were the deliverers of moral guidance. Ashoka's interpretation of Buddhism provided a progressive blueprint for complex long-distance societal organization, promoting sustained trade and urban collaboration. In the era of Ashoka, monasteries became centers for cultivating discipline, and Buddhist monks emerged as devilery men of the 'dharmic interface'.

Ashoka's 'Buddhification' of Hellenistic Rulers
Under Ashoka's reign, the intermingling of Greek and Indian philosophies reached unparalleled heights. Notably, some of Ashoka's first converts to Buddhism were
his Macedonian-Greek neighbors in the Northwestern regions.

Although Western history often understates this, Hellenistic rulers possibly leaned towards, or even embraced, Buddhist tenets. The 13th Edict by S. Dhammika lists several Greek kings, with precise historical and geographical references, as proponents or followers of Buddhism:

Antiochus II Theos, 261–246 BC - Seleucid Empire
Ptolemy II Philadelphus, 285–247 BC - Egypt
Antigonus Gonatas, 276–239 BC - Macedonia
Magas, 288–258 BC - Cyrenaica, current-day Libya
Alexander II, 272–255 BC - Epirus, Northwestern Greece

While it's possible that Ashoka may have embellished the extent of these monarchs' conversions, the actual process of adopting Buddhism during that period did not require elaborate rituals. Therefore, it is likely that the said kings merely endorsed or showed favor towards Buddhist tenets. This, however, underscores the notable interactions and cultural exchanges between the far-flung eastern and western boundaries of the vast Seleucid Empire. A critical takeaway is that, even if Ashoka's claims about the spread of Buddhistic conversion to distant regions like Macedonia and Greece were overstated, Buddhist ways of thinking were nonetheless recognized in these lands.

Considering the non-aggressive and broadly relatable essence of its teachings, it is plausible to deduce that Buddhism cast a significant sway far beyond its core region. To employ a contemporary metaphor, Buddhism functioned akin to open-source spiritual-behavioral software, notable for its remarkable capacity to be tailored,customized, by its adherents.
 
THE GRECO-BACTRIAN KINGDOM AND THE BUDDHIST KING MEANDER
The Greco-Bactrian Kingdom, dating from around 256 to 125 BCE, was located in what is now Afghanistan, as well as parts of modern-day Pakistan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan. The climate of this region during the time of the Greco-Bactrian Kingdom was, backed by indirect evidence, likely more hospitable and fertile than it is today, which would have supported the kingdom’s immense prosperity.
 

Around the time of the fall of the Maurya Dynasty in 190 BC, the Seleucid Empire began to slowly disintegrate, primarily due to conflicts with the emerging Parthian Empire. Interestingly, the Parthians adopted the Greek culture they observed in the Seleucids. Even after the fragmentation of the Seleucid Empire, the eastern satrap-kings maintained a good relationship with the Mauryan Dynasty. The Bactrian satrap, before its independence in 255 BC and which represented the easternmost part of the Seleucid Empire, had particularly strong ties with neighboring India.

In 245 BCE, Diodotus I, a Greek-Macedonian king, broke away from the Seleucid Empire to establish his own state, Bactria. Concentrated with Greeks and Macedonians, this region became a destination for political exiles, much like Australia for England and Siberia for Russia. Bactria continued and deepened the friendly relationship with India, while focusing on defending against the constant invasions from nomadic tribes to the north and northwest.

Subsequently, the King of the newly founded Bactrian kingdom, Menander (Melinda) (r. 160-135 BC), emerged as one of the most renowned converts to Buddhism.
Ruling around 150 BC, he governed a territory spanning from Bactria (modern-day Afghanistan) to parts of what is now northwestern India.
 It is critical to highlight that the Buddhism Menander embraced was significantly influenced by Hellenistic culture, having undergone nearly a century of cultural interchange.


This relief from Orissa represents a Bactrian king, likely Menander. The trinity symbol on his sword represents the Triple Gem (Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha) in Buddhism.


King Meander/Melinda pose questions to his Buddhist teacher, Nagasena

During Menander's Greco-Buddhist era, the Indo-Greek cultural synthesis reached an unprecedented zenith. Notably, many valuable Indo-Greek artifacts in silver and gold have been excavated. This, combined with the exquisite coinage—which artistically surpasses even that of Greece—indicates societies of great prosperity.


Portrait of King Meander/Melinda from a coin

Meander's predecessor, Demetrius I, had around 184 BC embarked on a bold conquest deep into India. Here he founded the Indo Greek Kingdom, where the Greeks even reached the new Sunga stronghold in Pataliputra.

After this Eastern expansion Taxila became the new nexus for Greco-Buddhist religion and art. The outcome of this conquest was that approximately 30, often rivaling, Greek minor kings later settled and ruled in the Punjab region that is now bith in Pakistan and India, continuing until about 50 AD. Many of these kings converted to or were sympatic towards Buddhism. Little would be known about them if not for the high-quality coins they left behind.


Herculean depiction of Vajrapani (right), as the protector of the Buddha,
2nd century AD Gandhara, British Museum. Wikipedia

The Lingua Franca of the Mudras
As diverse cultures intersected along the Silk Roads, the barrier of spoken language was significant. However, the silent language of the Buddha's hand gestures, or mudras, provided a common ground. Travelers and traders, often confronted with stupas, also encountered the ubiquitous depictions of the Buddha, whose mudras transcended linguistic divides. These hand gestures evolved into a form of universal communication, enabling the exchange of Buddhist stories and teachings across a mosaic of cultures.
It is certainly plausible that travelers on the Silk Roads could have adopted a simplified form of mudra-inspired sign language to convey peaceful intentions and other basic concepts to one another. Given that the mudras were widely recognized symbols associated with peace and spiritual ideals due to their connection with Buddhism, they could have served as a basis for a rudimentary, non-verbal means of communication. This form of sign language would have facilitated basic peace assurances among people of different languages and cultures, promoting mutual understanding and cooperation in the diverse environment of the Silk Roads.

Buddha's Aspirations and Civilizational Impact
Indeed, the Buddha's intent was not the construction of grand civilizations. Yet, his profound insights and doctrines undoubtedly assisted Emperor Ashoka in nurturing and advancing the expansive civilization along the Ganges, and its influence extended even further.

Buddhism's Middle Path as a Cultural Modus Operandi
Through the rich cultural exchange, the Buddhist Middle Path transcended its spiritual origins to become a behavioral standard for the burgeoning merchant classes, from the Far East to the Middle East. This ethical framework likely extended along a buffer zone surrounding major trade arteries, influencing and being practiced by communities within this radius. The teachings of the Buddha on moderation began to shape a collective consciousness, fostering a culture of restraint that was crucial for peaceful, long-range trade.
 
Mind Control instead of Military Control
Instead of securing the trading routes and cities with military power, Ashoka built self-control interfaces in the form stupas and monasteries, not in faraway places but as close to ordinary social life as possible where it could have a direct impact on the ground reality.
 
Non-violence and Wealth
Wealth based on global trade and not localized farming is always met with the challenge of synchronizing different cultures living far away from each other. Without a common denominator, trade is not possible. With the rise of the new globally connected urban megacentres on the Gangetic plain, Buddhism evolved as an understanding of reality that could unite people of different casts, creeds, and cultures in both urban and 'caravanic' self-control. Here the feudal Brahmanistic cast fragmentation would not be able to make ends meet. Hence Buddhism evolved into a self-restraining and peace-producing Buddha-belt from East to West. Without religious implemented self-control, the long-distance silk routes would as mentioned, collapse into banditry, and without the same, people of different colors, creeds, and languages would not be able to co-exist in big cities and in the caravanserais placed along the caravan routes.

East-end Buddhism and West-end Cristianity
The influence of Ashokan Buddhism is reflected in the Western emergence of Christianity. With the decline of the Roman Empire's military prowess, Christianity rose as the predominant ideology for self-regulation in the West. Emperor Constantine's transition from a focus on military might to a reliance on religious governance echoes Ashoka's own shift from a policy of aggression to one of religiously inspired self-discipline. While such parallel developments at each end of a major trade route could potentially arise independently as a response to the needs of trade-driven societies, it seems improbable that the extensive network and open nature of the Silk Road's civilizational zone did not contribute to a cross-cultural religious exchange of ideas. These ideas likely shared a common thread of non-violence as a foundational principle for the prosperity and stability of civilizations.

From Elitarian Jainism to the Mass-religion of Buddhism
In India itself Ashoka's propagation of Buddhist doctrines extended the already present spiritual principle of non-violence beyond the confines of ascetic life. It's noteworthy that Ashoka's grandfather, Chandragupta Maurya, despite his multicultural engagements, embraced Jainism—an elitarian faith that holds non-violence (Ahimsa) as its cardinal tenet. Viewing it through the lens of inherited cultural values, it seems plausible that Ashoka's universal and less personal form of Buddhism was effectively a democratization of the more exclusive, upper-class Jainism prevalent within his own lineage. The stringent Jain adherence to non-violence was thus tempered and evolved into a core ethos for a peaceful civilizational zone, fostering an expansive cultural sphere of peace.

The elite practice of non-violence and loving-kindness in North-west India had been established long before Ashoka, but under his reign, it became a philosophy accessible to all. In this light, one might consider Ashoka Buddhism as a form of 'Jainism light'—a more approachable version of the ancient doctrine.
 
An illustrative example that encapsulates both the parallels and divergences between Jainism and Buddhism can be seen in their respective monastic initiation rites. Jain monks undertake the austere practice of manually plucking their hair out, a symbol of renunciation, while Buddhist monks are permitted to shave their heads, reflecting a less extreme approach. Similarly, in Jainism, the act of Sallekhana—fasting to death—is regarded as a noble end, whereas Buddhism prescribes moderation, allowing only for periodic fasting.

The Middle Way: A Foundational Principle for Civilizational Harmony
Buddhism's emphasis on moderation, epitomized by the Middle Way, is a guiding principle that advocates for balance and avoidance of extremes. This ethos resonates profoundly with the essence of the Silk Road, which can be viewed as a physical embodiment of Buddha's Middle Way. In this context, the Middle Way transcends its spiritual origins to become a foundational philosophy for mass civilization. It represents an early and significant attempt to instill self-control within the human psyche, promoting harmony and stability across diverse societies interconnected by the Silk Road. (This theme will be further explored in the chapter
Civilization and Consciousness Part II.)
  
The Transition from Buddhism to Christianity
Several centuries subsequent to the rise of Buddhism, the teachings of Jesus would resonate with a comparable ethos of non-violence at the western extremity of the Silk Roads. It is noteworthy that the dominant religious milieu in Jesus' native land did not inherently foster an attitude of 'turning the other cheek' in response to aggression. His advocacy for mercy and refraining from vengeance was a notable divergence from the customary 'eye for an eye' principle of his era.
 
The hesitation of Western scholars to employ Occam's Razor—favoring the simplest explanation—and acknowledge the possibility that Jesus' message might be a continuation of the peaceful philosophies that had thrived along the Silk Roads, potentially dating back hundreds of years to the eastern reaches of these trade networks, remains, as earlier mentioned, a blind spot.
 
Syria: The Western Melting Pot of Ascetic Practices
The ethos of Ashoka, focusing on visibility and accessibility, is mirrored in the ascetic practices of early Syrian pillar saints of the 4th century. These saints, like St. Simeon Stylites, established their pillars as spiritual beacons, akin to spiritual lighthouses, prominently positioned at key caravan intersections to offer guidance. Despite their ascetic lifestyles, many of these hermits were not reclusive but actively provided spiritual counsel to seekers.

The concept of pillar saints can be seen as an evolved interpretation of the stupa's symbolism in Buddhist tradition, where stupas are revered as embodiments of the saintly spirit. This reverence is not just metaphorical; in some traditions, notably in Tibet, there was a practice where young monks would voluntarily seclude themselves in a stupa for the remainder of their lives. This ritualistic confinement within the stupa, sustained by a small entrance and a stream for food and water, was a profound expression of devotion. It underscores the belief in the stupa as a living embodiment of spirituality, bridging the tangible and the ethereal, much like the pillar saints who, through their ascetic practices, sought to transcend the physical and connect more deeply with the divine.
  
Influences on Early Christian Monasticism in Syria
The establishment of monastic systems, indisputably pioneered by Buddhism under Emperor Ashoka, presents an intriguing parallel with the development of early Christian monasticism in regions like Syria and Egypt. Considering this historical backdrop, it seems unlikely that the organizational structure of early Christian monasteries emerged independently without any influence from their Buddhist counterparts. Both Buddhist and Syrian Christian monastic practices struck a balance between solitary spiritual discipline and active community involvement in education and service. Monks in both traditions had the option of either a reclusive life or a communal existence within the monastery, maintaining a constant connection with the broader society.

Additionally, historian Will Durant’s reference to Buddhist gravestones in Alexandria, Egypt, dating from the inception of Christianity, suggests a Buddhist presence in significant early Christian centers. This further supports the possibility of Buddhist practices influencing the formation and structure of Christian monastic life in these areas.


The Rosary: A Thread of Devotion
The tradition of using prayer beads dates back to the Buddhist cultural spheres prior to the Mauryan dynasty. This practice was later echoed by the early Christian desert fathers in the 3rd and 4th centuries, who used prayer ropes with knots for their devotions. In the broader Christian tradition, these prayer aids became known as the rosary, from the Latin 'rosarium'. In the Sanskrit tradition, a similar string of prayer beads is called a 'japa-mala', where 'japa' signifies the meditative chanting of holy mantras.
Dr. Phil Christian Lindtner,  notes that the Sanskrit term 'japā', when translated independently of the mala context, signifies a rose, thus inspiring the term 'rosarium'.


THE GREEK INFLUENCE ON BUDDHISM & INDIA IN GENERAL
In 326 BC, Alexander the Great's arrival in Northwestern India marked a significant cultural shift. His army of 150,000 introduced a Hellenistic mindset, bringing diverse Greek professionals who infused new ideas and knowledge into the region. This influx, occurring during a period of social upheaval due to earlier Achaemenid Persian influences, made India particularly receptive to Greek cultural elements. As noted by historians Irfan Habib and Vivekanand Jha, Alexander's invasion and prior Achaemenid intrusions had already opened India to external influences, which Ashoka later expanded significantly. The long-term result was a robust network of communication, military, and trade, deeply ingrained through the Hellenistic satrap kings, ensuring a lasting interconnectedness among these realms, fostered by shared Hellenistic heritage and strong ties with Indian commerce.

Greek Medicine
Another example of Greek influence in Northwest India is the existence of a Greek traditional medicine in Punjab, known as Unani medicine. "Unani" or "Yavana" is the Indian term for an Ionian, or a Greek. Unani medicine coexists with India's own Ayurvedic herbal medicine and modern Western medicine.

            
Greek Unani medicine made by my Indian friend Anurag Sood's uncle, Joginder Paul, in Hoshiarpur, Punjab, is based on ancient Persian texts. The 'vitality medicine' that Yoginder prepared in 2008 was exceedingly complex to produce, consisting of a variety of herbs and plants ranging from West Afghanistan to the Indian Himalayas. According to Yoginder, this medicine was created by Alexander's physicians as a tonic for his weary army. It took the uncle six months to make this medicine. He passed away shortly after as the last in a long line of descendants who had learned to make Unani medicine from father to son.

Architechture and sculpturing
Before Alexander’s arrival, large-scale stone construction in India was not commonly practiced, aside from earlier civilizations like the Indus Valley, which had used stone and brick. After Chandragupta Maurya's reign, Indians adopted the use of stone for larger constructions from Persian influences. However, the intricate art of sculpting in stone was learned from Greek craftsmen who came with Alexander. This marked a significant shift in Indian architecture and sculpture, leading to the creation of stone temples and statues. These advancements, integrating Persian architectural techniques and Greek artistic skills, signaled a new epoch in Indian construction and artistry, leaving a legacy of stone that bears witness to the synthesis of these cultural influences.

The Greek Polis-Oasis 
The Hellenistic influence on Bactria's urban centers, reflected in the Greek polis-oasis model, fostered a vibrant cultural life. Theatres became fixtures in Alexandrian and Seleucian cities, where Greek dramatic traditions mingled with local storytelling.

  
Bactrian Greek theatre tickets in molded glass.
The First Ticket portrays an offering scene. It features a ram, followed closely by a man with an axe, both positioned on the medallion's rim. The man wears a primitive sheepskin skirt, indicating a ritualistic context. This scene parallels ancient Greek practices where blood sacrifices revitalized the dead, akin to a scene in "The Odyssey" where Odysseus seeks wisdom from the deceased seer Tiresias.

The Second Ticket: Commonly found on "cosmetic palettes" (whose original purpose is unclear), this scene depicts a woman revealing herself to a man or vice versa. It seems to be a variant of the "woman in the window" motif, reminiscent of the Jezebel story. This suggests a theme of seduction or revelation, prevalent in ancient storytelling and theatrical traditions.

These interpretations align these artifacts with known cultural and religious practices from the ancient world, illustrating a blend of mundane and spiritual themes in the art of the period. The style and imagery suggest a cultural blend, as theatrical performances were a significant part of Greek culture, and this tradition could have been merged with local Bactrian storytelling and religious narratives.

This cultural blend extended to religious art, where Greek methods of sculpting in stone evolved into the use of stucco. This medium allowed for greater expression of individuality, a value cherished in both the Ptolemaic and Seleucid kingdoms. Unfortunately, many stucco artifacts, particularly in Afghanistan, have been lost to religious extremism, but their discovery points to a rich legacy of Hellenistic artistic expression in the region.


This stucco portrait of a Buddhist monk represents a fusion of Hellenistic and Buddhist artistic traditions. The asymmetry of the lips and the interplay between sensuality and introspection suggest a personalized expression of individuality. Departing from the stylized norms of later Buddhist art, the precision in facial features here captures a unique personality. The monk's closed eyes and the tranquil asymmetry of the face evoke a meditative state. Skilled in Greek realism, the artisans have rendered a piece that conveys the spiritual essence of Buddhist thought through a distinctly human portrayal. This sculpture serves as a profound example of the cultural and artistic interchanges between the Hellenistic and Buddhist worlds.

The cultural and commercial compass of Alexander’s new city-states was, as already mentioned, linked like pearls in a necklace stretching from Northern India to the Mediterranean lands and Greece.
 
This chain of interconnected cities facilitated the Hellenization of not only the areas around them but also the cultures living along and within the caravan trails.
 
Through these cities, metaphorically seen as incubators of foreign culture, India was 'infected' by the Greek 'virus.' However, the influence also flowed in the opposite direction, as was evident in Alexander's own lifestyle, especially after conquering Persia. Even his most loyal, particularly the older, generals criticized him for increasingly adopting foreign customs, thereby distancing himself from his Macedonian roots. Alexander, like many conquerors before and after him, became enamored with the lands he conquered. The only one of his generals to take up this tradition and even evolve it was Seleucus Nicator.
 
As we will see in the following sections, the message of Ashokan Buddhism could spread so far west precisely because of the trade and cultural routes established by Alexandrian Hellenism. Simultaneously, Greek mathematics, art, culture, and particularly logical philosophy flowed eastward toward India, becoming crucial to the construction of Buddhism in the centuries before and after the Common Era. In this process, the Eastern and Western cultural currents reshaped each other's self-perceptions and expressions in an ongoing dialogue until the Hunnic invasions in the 5th century AD and later Islamic invasions.

BUDDHA GAINS A GREEK PERSONA
Indeed, when considering the development of Ashoka-Buddhism, one must acknowledge the significant Hellenistic influences that flowed from the Seleucid and subsequent Greco-Bactrian and Indo-Greek cultures. Caravanic communication, much like a two-lane road, allowed for the exchange of ideas and cultural practices in both directions. It was not Indians but rather the Greeks who fashioned the earliest statues of the Buddha. These figures were draped not in traditional Indian garb but in the Greek himation, underscoring the profound Hellenistic impact on Buddhist iconography.
 
The Greek influence on Buddhism is thus hidden in plain sight. It is subtly embedded within its very iconography. While scholars with a focus on national narratives may acknowledge the Hellenistic aesthetic of the Buddha's depictions, they often understate the depth of Greek philosophical impact that accompanies the folds of the himation.

  
Left: Himation dressed statues from the House of Cleopatra Delos, Greece (Wikipedia)
Right: Gandharan Buddha

The sartorial details of the Buddha statues are not merely artistic choices; they are vestiges of a profound intellectual exchange between Greek and Buddhist thought, manifesting in a visual form that has become emblematic of Buddhist art. The synthesis of Greek artistic techniques with Buddhist symbolism gave birth to a unique style of statuary known as Greco-Buddhist art and the later Kushan-Gandharan art.
 
The creation of these statues marks a significant evolution in Buddhist art, representing a shift from aniconic representations, such as footprints or the Bodhi tree, to anthropomorphic depictions of the Buddha. This evolution was not just an artistic development but also a reflection of the growing exchange of ideas and religious practices along the trade routes connecting the East and West.

The Artistic Fusion of Hellenistic Influence and Buddhist Statuary
The aesthetic characteristics of these Buddhist statues, with their undulating hair reminiscent of Greek deities and their tranquil, contemplative visages, bear the hallmarks of the Hellenistic sculptural tradition, tracing back to archaic period masterpieces like the statues of Cleobis and Biton. This artistic exchange played a pivotal role in propagating Buddhism into areas steeped in Greek culture, thereby easing the faith's assimilation and acceptance across new territories.

Thus, the creation of the first Buddha statues is a testament to the enduring legacy of the interactions between Ashoka's India and the Hellenistic kingdoms that arose from Alexander's conquests. The aesthetic and philosophical exchanges along these routes enriched both the Greek and Buddhist traditions, leading to lasting artistic legacies that continue to be admired to this day.

In essence, the familiar representation of the Buddha—with the serene expression and stylized drapery reminiscent of Greek sculpture—owes much to this intercultural dialogue. The Greek artisans, interacting with Buddhist concepts, interpreted the Buddha's image through their own artistic lens, giving rise to the depictions that have become widely recognized today. Thus, the Buddha's image as commonly known now is indeed significantly shaped by Greek artistic conventions. In fact, the Greek introduced to the East the idea of individuality.

In this way the Ashokan mission disseminated a unique synthesis of Buddhism, Hellenism, and Persian thought throughout the empire and beyond. Boundaries between faith, art and ordinary life became fluid, creating a rich, multi-cultural tapestry along established trade routes.
 
The Great Wheel Expansion of the Greek Buddha
As Buddhism began to wane in India, its land of origin, it found new vigor and sanctuary in adjacent regions such as Sri Lanka, Tibet, China, Burma (Myanmar, and Thailand, where it took root and flourished.
Amidst the fervent spread of missionary work, Ashokan Buddhism—already established in various regions—took on a renewed focus centered upon the figure of the Buddha. In this era, Buddhism, particularly the Mahayana or 'Great Vehicle' tradition, evolved into a diverse practice that harmonized the popular, devotional worship of the Buddha with sophisticated, philosophical thought. Mahayana Buddhism, in particular, revered the Buddha as a divine being in human guise, epitomizing him as an embodiment of inner beauty and grace, akin to the aesthetic ideals of the Greek sculptural heritage. This portrayal echoed the transformation of the Hellenistic-Egyptian-Persian archetype of the divine warrior, exemplified by Alexander, into the image of the tranquil ascetic Buddha known today. This metamorphosis paralleled the profound journey of Ashoka himself, who underwent a transformation from a fierce warrior king to a devout renunciate, reflecting a spiritual evolution both personal and cultural.
 
The anthropomorphic conception of divinity from Alexander's Hellenism was, in a sense, a regression compared to the more abstract religious notion of nirvana originally espoused by the Brahmins and Buddha, which did not emphasize the body as a religious message in itself. However, the anthropomorphization of Buddha into the beautiful form of Greek statues helped Mahayana Buddhism become a popular religion.

The emergence of the "Wheel of Dharma" Buddhism, with its altruistic worldview was, with its logic and down-to-earth approach, most probably a result of a synthesis of Seleucid and later Bactrian-Greek rationality and Indian spirituality.

Greek Buddhism versus Hinduism
Many years ago, when I visited the predominantly Buddhist rock-cut caves of Ajanta and Ellora (200 BCE to 600 CE) in India, the contrast between the Buddhist and Hindu caves was striking. Although the Buddhist caves displayed more Apollonian restraint compared to the Dionysian diversity of gods in the Hindu caves, this impression turned on its head upon entering the inner sanctum. Inside the Buddhist caves, at the holiest core, stood a statue of the Greek Buddha as an Alexander in divinized human form. In contrast, the Hindu temples, which began like a visit to Disneyland, culminated in an utterly empty space in the inner sanctuum.
 
The notion of god in human form, where the human figure itself could represent the divine logos, was widely accepted within the pan-Hellenistic cultural sphere. However, this anthropomorphic concept was unfamiliar in India before Alexander's invasion. The Brahmins, according to historical accounts, vigorously debated this subject with Alexander and his philosophers. The Brahmins' abstract conception of god as the transcendent principle of Brahman was incompatible with the Greek ideal of a beautiful soul in a beautiful body.

Clan-solidarity versus Universal brotherhood
Larger states, in their consolidation phase, typically prioritize peaceful coexistence among diverse peoples and cultures. Such states differ from smaller clan-based states in that they foster a sense of brotherhood among people from different backgrounds without relying heavily on military dominance.
  
While pre-Buddhist religions, like Judaism, also teach goodness and love, it's the unconditional, pan-humanistic love in Buddhism and to some extent also Christianity that stands out. It extends beyond clan consciousness, aiming to connect diverse people through enlightened humanity.
 
One essential observation to note is the expansive cultural reach of larger empires, extending well beyond their territorial borders. These dominant civilizations are repositories of highly sophisticated cultural and social knowledge, which is a critical factor enabling them to succeed in wars and conquests. Take, for example, Alexander the Great's military campaigns, particularly in Persia. His advanced military organization and technology acted akin to a viral pandemic, setting off a Darwinian competition between cultures in a struggle for survival of the fittest. Following the initial phase of warfare, a period of peaceful adaptation often ensues within the newly conquered territories. This process bears a striking resemblance to evolutionary dynamics, where humans, over time, have learned to coexist with and even benefit from the presence of bacteria and viruses. The peaceful adaptation period allows for the integration and assimilation of cultural, technological, and social elements from the conquering empire, much like how humans have developed symbiotic relationships with microorganisms.

In this way, the cultural and technological "viruses" that empires spread as a general rule leads to periods of adaptation and even mutual benefit. The spread of culture, then, is not merely an act of imposition but also one of complex, often reciprocal, exchange and adaptation, even to the point where the conquered civilization exerts cultural influence over its conqueror.

A latin quote from Horace's "Epistulae II. i. 156" beautifully encapsulates this phenomenon. In this case, Greece, after being conquered, managed to "capture" Rome by infusing it with its art, culture, and wisdom.

"Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit et artes intulit agresti Latio."
(Conquered Greece conquered her savage conqueror
and brought the arts into rustic Latium.
)

Jesus in the East
As we reflect on the cultural exchanges of antiquity, it is evident that Christianity, like Buddhism, traversed great distances. This stucco head from Bactria may indeed represent an Eastern depiction of Jesus, resembling a Greek philosopher. The detailed rendering of a crown of thorns, coupled with the visage marked by affliction, strongly suggests a Hellenistic interpretation of the Christian savior. Such an artifact could signify the mutual influence of Eastern and Western spiritual traditions, perhaps even influencing the development of Mahayana Buddhism's Great Wheel.


This stucco head from Bactria, interpreted as a birded representation of Jesus Christ, reflects a synthesis of Greek and Christian iconography. The crown, resembling a wreath, and the expressive face marked by lines of suffering, align with traditional portrayals of Jesus in Christian art, particularly emphasizing his passion and crucifixion. The execution of the sculpture, with its detailed beard and contemplative gaze, echoes the style of Greek philosopher portraits, suggesting an intent to depict Jesus within this philosophical tradition. This artifact underscores the spread of Christianity into the East, and illustrates the cultural dialogues between Hellenistic art and early Christian symbolism. The use of stucco for iconographic purposes in the Bactrian region likely peaked during the early centuries AD, influenced by Hellenistic traditions. Given that this artistic medium and the portrayal of religious figures in such a manner were not common beyond the 4rd century AD, this artifact could be among the initial attempts to visually represent Jesus, merging Hellenistic artistic styles with the emergent iconography of Christianity as it spread eastward. The emphasis on the human aspect of Jesus in the stucco head might suggest an influence from early Dyophysite Christianity, which asserts the dual nature of Christ as both fully divine and fully human. This theological stance was a central aspect of the Chalcedonian Creed established in the 5th century. The representation of Jesus with a strong human likeness, as seen in the stucco head, aligns with Dyophysite thought, emphasizing that while Jesus was divine, his human experiences, emotions, and sufferings were also very real. This could reflect the cultural and theological exchanges between East and West, where Eastern Christianity, particularly in regions like Syria, had significant interactions with Hellenistic cultures that might have influenced religious art and iconography.



This image of the Bactrian stucco head, captured from a different angle, clearly reveals that the head ornament comprises thorns, not flowers. This detail significantly alters the interpretation of the sculpture, aligning it more closely with traditional Christian depictions of Jesus Christ, particularly referencing the crown of thorns associated with his crucifixion.

According to professor Diamaid Mc Culloch in A History of Christianity, were it not for the Islamic invasions, the center of Christianity would not be Rome and/or Constantinoble, but much farther Eastwards like Baghdad. Christianity was like Buddhism on a mission and it went as far as China.
 

BUDDHA AND JESUS: BILBOARDS FOR WANDERING NARRATIVES
In summary the Silk Roads transcended their role as mere conduits of commerce, acting as vital conduits for cultural exchange. These routes allowed for the intermingling and transformation of wisdom, narratives, and collective experiences among civilizations. As illustrated earlier, the Buddhist Jataka tales, initially spread through oral traditions, evolved and integrated into global literary treasures such as the Persian "One Thousand and One Nights," eventually permeating European culture. This narrative exchange, akin to the movement of currency, signifies the profound interconnectedness fostered by the Silk Roads, blending the material with the intellectual and spiritual.
 

Famous persons are both symbolic repositories and historical figures
Examining the New Testament’s depiction of Jesus, we encounter two distinct portrayals: one is a more confrontational figure, while the other embodies non-violence and forgiveness. The grafting of narratives onto a local figure doesn't always seamlessly align with the individual's character, suggesting a historical basis for Jesus. The discrepancies in these stories indicate the layers of narrative added over time, pointing to Jesus as a tangible historical figure.

 
States, religious bodies and scholarly traditions mirror oral storytelling, perpetuating wisdom by weaving widespread tales, myths, and motifs.
 
Jesus, historically and presently, has been molded by church authorities, blending external influences with local narratives. This process incorporates 'good'—or pedagogically potent—stories from various sources.

The constructed nature of Jesus and Buddha does not diminish their reality; social construction is what defines reality.
 
Jesus and Buddha serve as focal points for collective wisdom, akin to billboards for wandering narratives, capturing historical, political, and cultural insights. Thus, they are both symbolic repositories and historical figures.
 
In the extensive cultural fusion between East and West, it's reductive to view Christianity simply as a copy of Buddhism. German scholar Burkhard Scherer acknowledges the presence of "much Buddhist stuff" in the Gospel, but clarifies that it's not the sole or even primary source for the New Testament.

Christianity stands as a significant Western creation of civilizational self-control, where Buddhism is not the only influence. Yet, examining abstract social behaviors, we see the East's early development of religious self-control, predating Western equivalents. This influence transcends language, with pre-linguistic, embodied interactions impacting cross-cultural exchanges. The concepts of goodness and forgiveness, rooted in embodied practices, originated in the East, specifically on the Gangetic plains, long before they found expression in the Jewish-Roman context that birthed Christianity.
 

Every culture is essentially a creative blend of influences from others, a reality that applies to all religions and social phenomena. However, interpreting these cultural exchanges purely through the lens of power dynamics, as often done by scholars influenced by Foucault's postmodernist ideas, suggests a problematic simplification in academic thought. In this context, postmodern 'wokism' can be likened to a form of religious belief, similar to how scholars with strong religious convictions might study religion. This approach tends to ignore the complex nature of cultural interactions, which involve much more than power and religious biases. They also include shared technology, cultural knowledge, mutual understanding, and cooperative development.

We are now ready for the next chapter,
Civilization and Consciousness Part II, where we will zoom out and return to the main theme of this exploration: consciousness.
 
Moving forward, we will embark on
Civilization and Consciousness Part II pivoting back to our core inquiry: the enigmatic nature of consciousness. This next chapter will broaden our perspective, offering a deeper understanding of consciousness within the tapestry of civilization.

 
EPILOGUE OF A DREAM - The Indo-Greek Genesis of Nothing
The decimal system, often misattributed as Arabic, was in fact a seminal Indian invention, with the concept of zero representing a significant intellectual leap. The Hindi term for zero, "shunya," denoting emptiness, echoes the profound philosophical traditions of India where the notion of void is pivotal.
 
It’s noteworthy that the Hindi word for zero, "shunya," is a religious term for emptiness, likely influenced by the Indian religious philosophy where voidness plays a crucial role across Hindu Brahmanism, Jainism, and Buddhism. The concept of zero, or nirvana in Buddhism, can be seen as an extension of this mathematical void.

In Western thought, arising from ancient Greece's denial of zero, consciousness is often misconstrued as something tangible. This search for the concrete overshadows the appreciation of 'nothingness.' In Indian culture, being called a 'zero' could be a compliment, reflecting a state of supreme emptiness as extolled by sages like Ramana Maharshi, known as the Great Emptiness.

The philosophers accompanying Alexander the Great to India encountered Indian sages adept in philosophical discourse, yet the Western acknowledgment of foreign cultural contributions to our own has been limited.

Zero first graphically appeared on a temple in Gwalior, India, in 876 AD.


Number 0 from a temple wall in Gwalior
Photo from an article in The Guardian

The philosophical concept of emptiness, pivotal to Eastern thought, likely evolved through East-West dialogues during the Hellenistic period. It is plausible that Indian Buddhist monks, educated in Greek thought, formulated the idea of zero. The intellectual exchange catalyzed by King Menander's adoption of Buddhism may have also introduced these monks to Greek dialectics. This cross-pollination of ideas could explain the logical and almost secular nature of Buddhism as perceived in the West. The legacy of these dialogues persists, notably in the debate practices of Tibetan monastic traditions.

This tradition of debate traces back to a protracted ideological struggle where Buddhism faced resistance in India. During the early centuries AD, as society saw a reassertion of Brahmanical order, Buddhists engaged in intense public debates with Hindus. As Will Durant notes, these debates were so fervent that the loser sometimes faced mortal consequences. Buddhists employed Greek-influenced logic to advocate for anatman, the non-existence of a permanent soul, while Advaita Vedanta Hindus argued for the existence of an eternal essence, Atman/Brahman.
 
The notion that existence is "shunya" or emptiness, became a central tenet of Buddhist philosophy with Nagarjuna, presenting a stark contrast to Brahmanic traditions that emphasized a more tangible ultimate reality. This philosophical divergence likely played a role in the conceptual development of the mathematical zero in India, a hypothesis that aligns with Occam's Razor—the principle that the simplest explanation is often correct—suggesting that zero emerged from these dynamic cultural and philosophical exchanges.
 
The irony indeed is profound. The very foundations of Western science and technology, which espouse a positivistic worldview, owe a significant debt to the Indian concept of zero—a notion conceived within a deeply religious context.

to be continued here:
Civilization and Consciousness Part II

 
Sources

Seleukos Nikator, Constructing a Hellenistic Kingdom - John D. Grainger
Bactria, The Histoty of a forgotten Empire - H. G. Rawlingson
The Greek Experience of India - Richard Stoneman - 2019
Mauryan Empire - Irfan Habib & Vivekanand Jha
Alexander the Great
- Robin Lane Fox
A History of Christianity - Diarmaid Mc Culloch
The Silk Roads - Peter Frankopan
Hellenism in ancient India
- Bannerjee, Gauranga Nath
The Story of Civilization ( II to V) - Will Durant
The Art and Architecture of India - 1996. B. Rowland
Buddha Statuen - Leonhard Adam - 1925
Buddha in Indien - Kunsthistorisches Museeum in Wien - 1995
The Jaina Path of Purification - Padmanabh S. Jaini
Collected Papers on Buddhist Studies - Padmanabh S. Jaini
Konge for en dag (King for a Day) - 1946 - Kaare Foss
Naked Philosophers: The Brahmans in the Alexander - Richard Stoneman  Historians and the Alexander Romance - 1995 - Richard Stoneman
The Bible and the Buddhist (Sardini, Bornato [Italy] 2001) Duncan McDerret:


An Intriguing but Isolated Figure: Dr. Phil Christian Lindtner

www.Jesusisbuddha.com - curated by Dr. Phil Christian Lindtner

Dr. Christian Lindtner is a figure who has stirred considerable controversy and, as a result, finds himself on the periphery of mainstream academic discourse. His theories, while unique, have been met with skepticism and are often regarded as overly simplistic and speculative within mainstream academic discourse. Burkhard Scherer notes: CL here very dangerously deviates from sound scholarship into the dungeons of half-insane amateurism.

Furthermore, Lindtner, like many specialists, exhibit a certain obliviousness to topics beyond his immediate expertise. For instance, his assertion that Jesus was a non-historical figure, used to underpin his theory that the New Testament is essentially a reiteration of Buddhist scriptures, can be challenged. The evolution and adaptation of the Jataka Tales demonstrate the flaw in such a provocative claim. Stories and myths evolve and transform as they traverse cultures. Upon reaching new lands, they often become personalized, centering around a local figure, thereby acquiring a unique, localized expression. Thus, Christianity is not merely a facsimile of Buddhism; rather, it has been profoundly influenced by Buddhist teachings and adapted them within its own spiritual and cultural framework.
 

More Controversial Yet Thought-Provoking Sources:
While I recognize the following sources as inspirational, I don't view them as entirely reliable for academic rigor:

Jesus Lived in India - Holger Kersten
Lost Years of Jesus - Elizabeth Clare Prophet

These sources and personal experiences while travelling for years in India and Nepal, have contributed to my nuanced understanding of the complex relationships between Eastern and Western philosophies and religions.

Gunnar Mühlmann