A.I.C. - Approaching Truth in Early Greek and Early Buddhist Thinking
Approaching Truth in Early Greek and Early Buddhist Thinking
ISSN: 2241-9993

Copyright: Ακαδημία Θεσμών και Πολιτισμών - Academy of Institutions and Cultures


GEORGIOS HALKIAS, University of Hong Kong


CHRISTINA PARTSALAKI, University of Hong Kong

Heraclitus and the Buddha - Approaching Truth in early Greek and early Buddhist Thinking


Georgios T. Halkias, Assistant Professor of Asian Studies, The University of Hong Kong, georgios.halkias@gmail.com

It is common knowledge that since ancient times there have been Asian elements and influence on Greek cosmology without any doubt as for the readiness and capacity of the Greeks to engage in philosophical dialogue with people from near and far away lands. As early as the sixth century BCE, cross-cultural exchanges between Greeks, Indians and Persians are documented in the Persian Empire that fostered the international movement of people and tangible and intangible goods from the eastern coast of the Aegean all the way to the Persian satrapy of Bactria in modern-day Afghanistan. The well-known voyage of Carian Scylax of Caryanda in 517 BCE, written in Greek in a book nearly lost to us, describes his passage from the Kabul River in Paskapyrus to the Indus River and through the Arabian Sea to Suez. In the 5th century BCE, Herodotos reports on a unique class of itinerant Indian ascetics who were vegetarian, refrained from killing, while there are several recounted cases of eminent Greek thinkers travelling abroad and coming in contact with other civilizations including Egyptians, Persians and Indians. At the same time there are several recounted cases of foreigners travelling to Greece. The most notable among these being Abaris (Άβαρις), a space-walker (αεροβάτης or αἰθροβάτης) and a shaman-priest of the solar-deity Apollo. The hyperborean Abaris travelled across Greece holding onto a magical arrow that closely resembled a phurba well-known in Central Asian shamanism. Some of the Greek sources inform us that his lineage was passed on to Pythagoras who received the arrow and the sacred knowledge that may have come from the depths of Inner Asia and fertilized Greek thought. Without going into further details that would remove us from the purpose of this editorial introduction, we should note that it is not surprising to discover age old rituals and cosmological theories that were shared between Eurasian people even if these cannot always be documented by extant written sources.

It would be historically necessary to recognize that there were many channels of communication and exchange between the ancient Greek world and the Eurasian continent while Asians resided in Greece at different times. In the following comparative study, Christina Partsalaki offers a thorough philological analysis between two philosophers who probably lived in the same milieu in Asia Minor and the Indian subcontinent respectively. Even though Heraklitos of Ephesus and Śākyamuni the Buddha, came from different cultural, linguistic and geographical backgrounds, these two well-renowned philosophers had a common quest to uncover a higher truth, while their teachings and methods of delivery reveal a unique attempt to go beyond our commonplace views and collective ideas about the nature of reality. We should note that Greek philosophers at this time attempted to discover and analyse for the most part the fundamental elements and structures of our cosmos. Their preoccupation with morality, especially in the case of Heraklitos, signifies a primary task to describe a universal truth reflected in the microcosm of societies and individuals. br>
It is obvious that Partsalaki is not interested to sketch a common historical origin or a specific starting point in the development of the minds of these two wise men. Rather she is interested to let the sources, written in Greek and Pāli language, to reveal on their own their common assumptions concerning the “impermanence of all things,” “knowledge versus wisdom,” and “awakening as opposed to ignorance.” It is her intention to bring to light the interconnected nature of ideas and read the contributions of the Greek philosopher through a Buddhist lens without resorting to false hierarchies. In her own words:

The emphasis is not placed on which of these two persons and philosophies came first, is original or better than the other. On the contrary, the aim of the present study is to examine shared philosophical methods and topics which relate to the investigation of truth in the aphorisms of Heraclitos and the teachings of the Buddha, two contemporaries who were concerned with an essential differentiation between our “view about reality” and the “real state of things.”

Without doubt, it is especially important to let the thinkers express themselves without an attempt to promote a preconceived position. Relating early Greek with early Buddhist philosophy the author resists an established view that limits the thought of Heraklitos to the understanding of his successors, mainly Plato and Aristotle, who interpreted his doctrines in ways that supported their own philosophical ideas. In this way, she succeeds to deliver much more than what she promises in the introduction to her work. Through this academic and well-researched study she initiates a novel hermeneutic quest guided by the dialectic relation between language and interpretation, where the “text and its interpreter” constitute, according to the German philosopher Gadamer, an ongoing “fusion of horizons.” In the comparative spirit of a transcendental contemplation that developed in the East and the West, we discern the roots of a universal spiritual heritage that survived in different mystery cult forms during continuing migrations of the people of Eurasia. We are also confronted with the greatness of human inspiration that gives expression to a coveted truth that promises to liberate us from the fetters, deception and suffering of a reality dependent on the senses and subject to phenomenal truth.

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