Gosh – here’s an interesting thought. There are scholars who now put the date of the Buddha’s birth so that he and Socrates are roughly contemporaries of each other. And the same scholars find some evidence that the Buddha was exposed to Greek thought early in his studies.
As Mark Vernon writes:
“What does this mean for Buddhism today? Well, it might be one way of re-making Buddhist concepts for the West. For example, duhkha – usually translated as ‘suffering’ – might better be thought of as indicating the tragic state of existence, the fact that human life is marked by transience, impermanence and death. The point is that duhkha is not always painful, as the term suffering implies. However, it must be fully understood if an individual is to ‘wake up’ and see things clearly.
If that is right, I wonder whether anything might be learnt about duhkha from the ancient Greek conception of tragedy. Roughly, in the tragedies of the great playwrights, the hero is the individual who is able to face the fate the gods have decreed for them. They are the ones to be admired; they are the focus for the catharsis provided by the action. You might say they are the ones who understand reality as it has come to them, with all its transience and impermanence. They are able to let go of the craving for life and are, thereby, typically honored by the gods – escaping the cycles of joy and sorrow that usually characterizes the life of mortals. Might that be a model of Buddhist ‘heroism’?
The most scholarly text on these links, Thomas McEvilley’s The Shape of Ancient Thought, doesn’t push the parallels between ancient Greek and Buddhist ideas back to the life of Gautama and Socrates themselves. Rather McEvilley focuses on how, say, Platonic philosophy helped to shape early Buddhist thought. Platonic Ideas, for example, are like Buddhist dharmas – the ‘really real’ of which phenomena are but shadows. Alternatively, Buddhist practice seems not unlike what Plato has Socrates say in the Republic: ‘We must be able to discern the presence of Ideas themselves and also of their images in anything that contains them.’ Wisdom is a kind of right seeing.”
Read the full article here.
Very interesting. I’m not nearly as familiar with Buddhist thinking as I am with Platonic – but if Vernon is right and there is a different lens that can be used to view this, perhaps it’s worth taking some time to read up on.
Plato has been interesting especially to me as a help to contrast more clearly the surprising message of Christianity and the ways it parallels and the ways it refutes traditional Greek thought.
Perhaps it’s worth reading some Buddhist thought to see how it, by contrast, might make clearer what the Fathers are responding to in their writings as Christianity pushed East.