Submitted by Isabella1293 t3_zowtl7 in history

I've been interested in the overlap between Hellenistic philosophy and Buddhism for a while. Some of the parallels are coincidental in that humans happened to have come up with the same ideas at different times - but some are direct. Greek Philosophers such as Pyrrho really did bring back eastern ideas to Greece and wrote extensively about Buddhism. Alexander the Great founded a number of Greek states in the far east occupying territory as far east as what is today Pakistan, and parts of India. A number of Greek elites such as Heliodorus actually converted to Hinduism, while Menander I converted to Buddhism. The first-ever statues of Buddha were commissioned by Greek converts, as this had not been an eastern practice prior to that (look up some of the examples if you're not familiar, it's really interesting to see Hellenistic depictions of Buddha).

As far as I understand, the Greeks added the Hindu gods and mythology to their own existing pantheon of gods, and this whole belief system collapsed along with the greek states a few decades/centuries later. What I wonder is whether any of the cross-pollination went the other way - could there be any traces of greek mythology or greek gods within the many demigods and deities of contemporary Hinduism? or did any survive for a while afterward?



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Quantum_Heresy t1_j0pf91x wrote

The Greco-Macedonians introduced a number of innovative artistic, sculptural and architectural forms into the vernacular of Indian religious and governmental representation, and was especially popularized and proliferated throughout the Maurya Empire from the west. A great example of this production was the gradual transformation of the iconic image of the Buddha (as well as Hindu saints) in which Greek aesthetics were adopted.


Someguywhomakething t1_j0r9cbm wrote

The bent knee in full figure reliefs or sculpture depicting Buddha or bodhisattvas.


Netroth t1_j0tbmgh wrote

Don’t forget the uncanny similarities in their music

Edit: I say “their” when I’m myself Greek. I was demonstrably lazy with the phrasing.


helln00 t1_j0pie4e wrote

This is not in India but there is an example of Greek iconography going as far as Japan through silk road which is the depictions of wind deities in Japan and China, which has characteristics of the Greek god Boreas, most iconically the windbag


BuffaloAl t1_j0pjcb7 wrote

I believe there are echoes of heracles in some Japanese statuary as well


osarusan t1_j0s55kv wrote

This is correct. Herakles and Boreas were massively popular in the Greek army, and so the lands that were conquered/settled by the Greek brought worship of these gods with them. Since Buddhism traveled from India through Bactrian Afghanistan on its way to China, Korea, and Japan, it picked up a lot of artistic and religious pieces from those cultures along the way.

In addition to the wind bag carried by Fūjin (descended from Boreas' cloak) the lion skins and weapons carried by Niō in their depictions are thought to be inspired by Greco-Bactrian depictions of Herakles, who wore lion skins and carried a big club.


IchiThKillr t1_j0qqoy8 wrote

I’m Japanese and my wife is Greek. I have a tattoo of Fūjin on my arm and after reading this, we both had our minds blown.. so. many. similarities.


temujin64 t1_j0twsb8 wrote

Lafcadio Hearn? Although he was half Irish and only born in Greece raised in Ireland.


KingMob9 t1_j1phr5x wrote

That's cool!

Also, ever noticed the similarities between the stories of Orpheus and Eurydice, and Izanagi and Izanami ?


Isabella1293 OP t1_j0pjd9p wrote

Now that is really interesting! Thanks for this.


Cpalaklover t1_j0ptu8s wrote

Read the book The Shape of Ancient Thought—it’s literally all about this!


ErwinFurwinPurrwin t1_j0rb3v9 wrote

That's an awesome work. I referenced it repeatedly in my M.A. thesis, which was about the question of Buddhist influence on Pyrrho of Elis. I strongly agree that anyone interested in East-West comparative philosophy should absorb this book. Cheers


cazvan t1_j0s470s wrote

I was going to recommend this book as well. Tldr: there was a pretty substantial amount of cross pollination, both from Hinduism into Greece, and from Greece into India.


PckMan t1_j0q0f8n wrote

A great example is the japanese god of wind Fujin. Fujin is always depicted holding a bag which holds the winds slung across his back. This is very similar to how the Greek god of wind, Boreas, was depicted, and it is not a coincidence.

As per the wikipedia article

>The iconography of Fūjin seems to have its origin in the cultural exchanges along the Silk Road. Starting with the Hellenistic period when Greece occupied parts of Central Asia and India, the Greek wind god Boreas became the god Wardo/Oado in Bactrian Greco-Buddhist art, then a wind deity in China (as seen frescoes of the Tarim Basin; usually named Feng Bo/Feng Po - "Uncle Wind" - among various other names), and finally the Japanese Wind God Fūjin. The wind god kept its symbol, the windbag, and its disheveled appearance throughout this evolution.


Basically this god travelled through all of Asia and was adopted by multiple civilisations reaching as far east as Japan. Looking up the iconography from any one of those civilisations and the similarities are obvious.


Another fun little tidbit I like, but which is not exactly related with religion but does pertain to cultural exchange due to Ancient Greek conquests of Asia, the Nepalese Kukri knives which are very well known symbols of Nepal and hold much cultural significance are most likely descended by the ancient greek Kopis sword which probably made its way there through Alexander the Great.


TheNotSoGrim t1_j0rrg2u wrote

Further proof that if you make something really cool people will adopt it anywhere. True for even thousands of years ago I guess.


PckMan t1_j0un1c9 wrote

The ancient world really did rely heavily on exchange of knowledge. Very few people travelled and fewer still had the ability to effectively pass on knowledge. You can actually very easily correlate the technological and general knowledge level of populations to their proximity to major trade routes. It also shows when populations which were isolated how much their growth and development differed, but it also makes their own discoveries that much more impressive. For example the Polynesian peoples who travelled the pacific may seem primitive even compared to their contemporary civilisations, and especially as time moved on that they didn't progress at the same rate. However when you think about the fact that they lived on small islands with limited resources, and all they developed they did so in isolation, their feats are remarkable, especially in navigation and shipbuilding. They sailed the open ocean, and the Pacific at that which is a very challenging ocean to sail, and managed to find tiny islands in its vast expanse to colonise, something that would have been a challenge to many other great maritime civilisations for centuries to come. To this day most sailing vessels use construction techniques those people originally came up with.


stargazrr t1_j0pi4ik wrote

This is a great question, as someone who grew up Hindu (not practicing) I often thought they shared some similarities and always wondered this as they would have been religions around at the same time. Much like there are Abrahamic religions, Hinduism and Greek gods are pantheon based.


Isabella1293 OP t1_j0pkia6 wrote

I think there was a lot more interaction than I used to imagine. It was almost taught to us as if India was a semi-mythical place until the East India Company arrived. Now I know that there was cross-conversation and that the libraries of Alexandria were also filled with extracts of the Upanishads.


juwyro t1_j0pty4e wrote

There was almost Sino-Roman direct contact. They knew of each other through trade goods and information that trickles through. Then there's the Battle of Zhizhi , probably false, but the story is of a Roman unit fighting against Chinese soldiers.


Re-Horakhty01 t1_j0ps2dq wrote

The Hindu religion does actually at least partially stem from the same root as the Greek one! It's an Indo-European religion being heavily influenced by a migration/invasion of Indo-Iranian or Aryan peope into Northern India. These are the people who wrote the Vedas. They were the eastern migration of the same peoples that in the west became the various Slavic peoples, the Norse, the Celts, the Italic peoples, the Hellenic Greeks and so on. The religions evolved very differently across the Norse, Celtic, Indian, Slavic and Greek and Roman strands but you also tended to find them re-combinjng in interesting ways later down the line with the Greek influence transforming Roman culture and religion, and influencing India through Alexander's conquests.


DarshJalan t1_j0quui6 wrote

The theory of Aryan invasion has already been debunked.


lax_incense t1_j0qx9n9 wrote

He said invasion/migration


DarshJalan t1_j0r87ay wrote

Yet there is no proof of Aryan people writing the Vedas.


lax_incense t1_j0r9ua7 wrote

Then how did the Indo-European languages arrive in India? How can you explain Sanskrit’s clear relationship to Latin, Greek, Persian, Hittite? The Indo-Europeans barely changed the genetic landscape of India, but they had a profound impact on the language and religion of the subcontinent.


Elegant-Road t1_j0rgk7w wrote

Curious, why couldn't have Sanskrit been the influence on Latin, Persian etc ?

Could the Indo-Europeans be native to India who migrated west and took their ideas there?


Re-Horakhty01 t1_j0ridz8 wrote

Weh hsve archeological evidence pointing it to being the other way around, and linguistic evidence backs this - the northern Indian languages shares descent but not the southern Dravidian language group for example. Plus we can see the evidence of the linguistic and cultural drift from the common source up in the steppe rather than a spread from India west.


DarshJalan t1_j0rjdbb wrote

Can you give me the source of those evidence.


Re-Horakhty01 t1_j0rmwlr wrote

Well, linguistically the Indian subcontinent is only home to a single branch of the wider Indo-European language family, the Indo-Aryan branch, and you'd expect that the originating region for the wider family to be home to multiple branches. Plus you have the inter-relation of Greek and Indo-Aryan language evidenced here:

Of coutse the southern Dravidian language and cultural groups are distinct from the northern groups, but it seems likely that some form of migration by cousins to the Hittites, Slavs, Celts and so on did occur very anciently.


DarshJalan t1_j0rtg9x wrote

The paper you linked argues that the inscription found in Crete can probably be an indo Aryan language. Doesn't mean that it wasn't the other way around. Also one of the major issues with Indian archeology is that ancient Indians didn't really keep a lot of records and most of the records were passed orally rather than in any written form


Re-Horakhty01 t1_j0rud7g wrote

That the text predates the oldest sanskrit we've found by a couple of centuries implies to me that the spkit between the two cultures was prior to the migration into India. The trail of material evidence, not just inscriptions, does point to an origin of the ancestral peoples of the Indo-European culturo-linguistic familoty being from around the Black Sea area. More than likely an immigration of a people descended from that ultimate ancestral group mixed with the descendants of the Harrapan civilisation.


DarshJalan t1_j0s2e9w wrote

Considering that we still don't know how old Sanskrit is, it is wrong to claim fully that the text predates Sanskrit. Again, ancient Indians never kept record. The oldest Sanskrit text that was found is a massive religious collection of hymns. That same trial for all we know could be backwards.


Re-Horakhty01 t1_j0uc19x wrote

Except that we'd expect multiple branches of the language family closer to the origin point, not less, and we see this with the Proto-Indo-European languages, with a cluster of branching as the Proto-Slavs, Proto-Celts and Proto-Italics splinter off moving west and south away from the Black Sea whilst there's not so much branching going on when you get down into India. This suggests the origin up in the steppe.


DarshJalan t1_j0ula3a wrote

I don't get that tbh. Shouldn't there be more clusters branching out the further away from origin a thing is? Like tree branches?. Also proto slavs, proto Celts and proto italics being younger than Sanskrit should be proof that argues for this


Re-Horakhty01 t1_j0umlol wrote

They aren't younger than Sanskrit, I am not sure where you got that idea from. As for the clustering, this is the Linguistic Center of Balance Principle . Essentially the idea is that if people migrated out from a location you're going to find the languages and cultures that came out of these peoples in greater proximity together nearer to the homeland because people will be splitting off along the path of migration. Thus India is unlikely to be the origin point of the Indo-European languages as there's only the Indo-Aryan branch present, representing only the strand of the migrations whilst it's likely to be out near the Black Sea because the closer you get to that area the more frequent and closer together the Indo-European language branches get.

People are more likely to stop at a shorter distance and settle down, and the others from their group just keep going, so the shorter distance is more densely populated with the languages descended from the original group than the other way around.


Kered13 t1_j0rmeke wrote

Archaeological and linguistic evidence points overwhelmingly elsewhere. The prevailing hypothesis on the origin of Indo-European languages is the Kurgan Hypothesis. It suggests an origin in the Pontic steppe among a migratory people, who then spread westward into Europe and east and then south into Persia and India.


PhiloCroc t1_j0q7evz wrote

I'm a Classicist who has also done a fair bit of work on Sanskrit because of a) the Indo-European link and b) the literature is just quite cool. I have some thoughts on this but am not sure about the rules on linking to a personal website.

There are going to be some similarities due to a) Springing from a common source (not necessarily the PIE link, ample evidence for influence on both from Mesopotamia). b) Greeks influencing Indians and vice versa. c) Our comparative models making us think two very different things are similar (do not underestimate this).

This is problematised since, despite what RW Indian groups will claim, the Hinduism of the period looked quite a bit different to how its practiced now. In fact, the Gupta Empire (4th-6th AD) seems to be the major formulative influence on modern Hinduism.

In the North West, where Greek influence was strongest, you're looking at a mix of Buddhist and Vedic cults that were ancestral to but in many ways distinct from later forms.

A few areas stick out:

  1. Plastic arts (look at the Gandhara Buddha)
  2. Architecture - though there are better examples of this in East Afghanistan, at the time you would think of this was part of the Indosphere.
  3. Buddhist dress.
  4. Astronomy.

Here's something I wrote on a bit of iconography, hopefully, if against the rules, the mods will just remove the link and not the whole post :\

If you like, I can give you a reading list.


jkershaw t1_j0sktme wrote

Great, carefully reply. This point

"Our comparative models making us think two very different things are similar (do not underestimate this)."

Is really insightful, a lot of very poor history is based on people picking up seeming similarities and turning them into theories - notably that awful Netflix shows.

Then the next issues is assuming that things that were genuinely shared meant the same thing even in the new context - when the act of translation changed the meaning


nambisam t1_j0pll1q wrote

Many historians pointed out that as fair possibility of colonies for Greek people in South India (Tamilnadu) for few generations from 3 BC .. Considering Hindu religions is mostly follwed in Tamilnadu this seems fair possibility.


wavy-seals t1_j0ppnfu wrote

The Greek key is one of the most international symbols of Buddhism today, and you can see it all around Japan, China, Korea, and south East Asian countries.

Stoicism was influenced by Skepticism, which was an existing philosophy before the Macedonian conquests but changed quite a bit after Pyrrho traveled to South Asia with Alexander.

Mentioned before, but Hellenic Buddhism had a distinct art style and was the foundation of Buddhist art. Some incredible examples still exist across Central Asia, but a lot of them have been destroyed - including possibly the most famous, the [Buddhas of Bamiyan](,67.826700&q=Buddhas%20of%20Bamiyan&_ext=EiQpfmrg+X5qQUAx6PQRp+j0UEA5fmrg+X5qQUBB6PQRp+j0UEA%3D).


LateInTheAfternoon t1_j0ygtij wrote

>Stoicism was influenced by Skepticism

No, not much at all. Stoic epistemology was overall very positive and much adverse to Skeptic arguments. The debates of Stoics during the centuries after Zeno of Citium, the founder, were mostly directed against the Middle Platonists of the so-called Skeptic Academy, who were those that actually were very influenced by the Skeptics. In fact, this skeptic alignment of the Platonists allowed the Stoics to revisit Plato and make more and more use of him, i.e. there was a Platonizing effect on the Stoa's teachings during this time. Originally, Stoicism had its roots in the teachings of the Cynic and Platonic schools along with a good helping of the Dialecticians (Megarians) and Stilpo (a 'free lancing' 'Socratic', and one of Zeno's teachers).


SatanakanataS t1_j0q22nd wrote

Years ago, in college, I did a deep dive into researching the oft-overlooked Kushan Empire for a paper. It was a Silk Road empire, its placement setting it up to be a fascinating blend of culture, religion and language. I'd say it was fundamentally Hellenistic but over time the influence of the subcontinent colored its nature considerably. I'm sure I've forgotten more than I remember about its rise and fall, but it was a fascinating study.


Isabella1293 OP t1_j0rhp9y wrote

That also sounds really interesting and I'd love to read more into it


Magmanamuz t1_j0q53w3 wrote

My vague understanding is that as earliest as Pythagoras went to the east and came back as a vegetarian that started its own cult and one of the laws was they couldn't stand on grass as it was impure... I think there was more culture crossover than we tend to think nowadays...


Infused_Hippie t1_j0pt9tp wrote

Hello! I was talking about Greek Lettering but I would love to type out a longer explanation for this but no time tbh. Modern day English is very influenced by such a thing between Greeks and Hindus already. Just in the Letter G contains the alpha and the omega thing but also covered a lot of the Hindu thing. The beliefs of Breath is Gods and that Fire Breath or the Word is God is a very big combo of both words in multiple languages today that were inspired by a combo of the two. Many colors we see today and their words go back to this antiquity. Purple was based both on the smashing of bits of shells to make a color (blue to red to purple) (story of aprhodite and the shading of shiva to kali with Vishnu in middle making the purple) there are many fine examples in your day to do that include buddhistic teachings however I will say. All of Buddha and Hindu sculpture making started because of them. The main goal before then was to die like Buddha and be cast in gold. You become the Buddha Statue. This is a similar practice to some done on a Saturnalia festival tradition to Bodhi day or enlightenment day to Christmas


Nyonosudochan t1_j0qtn8t wrote

The very first lecture of "Nietzsche's Zarathustra," not Nietzsche's "Thus Spoke Zarathustra," but the Princeton University Press book titled Nietzsche's Zarathustra, goes into discussing this to quite some detail, showing you how the ideas crept in, and the style of propaganda used then at the time to turn the Values of the ancient Greek on their head. The whole book is worth you time, even though it's completely off topic.


ErwinFurwinPurrwin t1_j0rcd18 wrote

My M.A. thesis was on this topic. I was initially enthusiastic about the exciting prospect that Pyrrho "reinvented" Buddhism in Ancient Greece (ref. Kuzminsky), but the empirical evidence simply isn't there yet. The scepticism propounded by Sanjaya Belathiputta (sp?) seems like a better match at present, though I'm looking forward to future scholarship on the topic


allegoryofthedave t1_j0q5z6a wrote

Check out the “Immortality Key” by Brian C Muraresku. I think his work is pioneering how we understand the relationship between Indo-European religions and why they seem so similar.


DaddyCatALSO t1_j0skusu wrote

I read that one of the traditional Indian schools of medicine originated from the Greeks


Ser_Sweetgooch t1_j0qnlit wrote

IMHO Stoicism of the Greek school is more or less Buddhism without concepts of rebirth or karmic weight, however the reward is a clean conscious and knowing your virtue is aligned with your actions which is essentially the same thing.


docroberts t1_j0r02pj wrote

Stoicism (and it's variants like epicureanism) and Buddhism are similar, but I was under the impression that they arose independently. Since they are on the same landmass, I guess two traditions could have influenced each other. On the other hand I'm (almost) sure I read somewhere that Aztecs philosophers had the same sort of ideas: The world is slippery slick. One can't hold onto anything.


Ser_Sweetgooch t1_j0r4hxz wrote

AFAIK you are correct, but there’s no reason they couldn’t have influenced/respected/reinforced one another’s beliefs over the centuries as complementary philosophies. OP asked about the surviving legacy of Greek Hinduism and as a practicing stoic I thought it novel at least to throw in my 2 cents


pastebluepaste t1_j0sv8ez wrote

On a side note, I’ve used very old natural hot spring baths in the Indian Himalayas which look 100% original Ancient Greek, carvings etc. In valleys where most of the locals are fair skinned & blue eyed (rapidly changing due to modern influx of others & the kidnapping of daughters) They had their own family of gods slightly different to the more southern Hindus, and some being more important, less ‘retired’ than they are outside the valleys (Agni, Surya, Indra & Brahma)


Cow_Herd t1_j0tsl1y wrote

During Alexander's campaigns, some of his soldiers stayed back in India. They primarily settled in 2 areas of India, one of which is the region you visited - which explains the blue eyes and fair skin (genes traced back to Greeks). I mention this only because, we have a lot of people with European genes owing to colonials (British, French, Dutch, Portuguese etc) who conquered various parts of the country and mingled with the natives.


-introuble2 t1_j0td4j6 wrote

From a previous reading I thought I had a reference that many Greeks had converted or entered into Jainism, too. I can't refind what I had in mind but maybe an older writing is also of some interest; from The Greeks In Bactria And India by W. W. Tarn, 1938, p. 391 "... but in fact at present there are only five Greeks whose religious predilections are known or can be deduced, and three of these were not Buddhists...." in


toxoplasmosix t1_j0tso0j wrote

this is something i've always wondered about: the ancient Greek names of the zodiac constellations are the same as the ancient indian ones (which are still in use today).


SteampunkDesperado t1_j0xdhps wrote

Fascinating thought! That might help explain why Indian statuary looks somewhat more western than its Chinese equivalent.


DaoScience t1_j0ra1f1 wrote

"Greek Philosophers such as Pyrrho really did bring back eastern ideas to Greece and wrote extensively about Buddhism. "

What did he have to say about Buddhism?


realhighup t1_j0syemi wrote

Was just there and I was also wondering why I saw a lot of buddhist symbols so much


AffectionateStorm106 t1_j0t2ud2 wrote

Look up gandhara school and mathura school of art. Sadly most of the gandhara art pieces have been destroyed by the taliban


toxoplasmosix t1_j0tsf54 wrote

the name Alexander is still popular in india in the form of Sikander. it's also a word that means victor.


Liamkeatingwasere t1_j1aliv7 wrote

Although not an answer about Greek ideas permeating India, there is a group called the Kalash in Pakistan descended from Alexander's soldiers and local women. They have maintained their fused culture. There's a good essay about them in The Critic.


Relevant_Monstrosity t1_j0qupx9 wrote

The interaction between Greek and Hindu beliefs is an interesting topic, but it's also a potentially controversial one. While it's clear that the Greeks brought back Eastern ideas and introduced innovative artistic styles to India, it's important to consider the possibility of cultural appropriation and the potential harm caused by the spread of these ideas.

There are certainly some examples of Greek iconography appearing in Hindu art and architecture, but it's worth questioning whether or not the Greeks had a right to influence Hindu beliefs in this way. Did they respect the cultural differences between the two traditions, or did they impose their own beliefs on the Hindus?

It's also worth considering whether or not any similarities between Greek and Hindu beliefs are truly coincidental, or if they were influenced by the spread of Greek ideas. It's possible that the Greeks had a significant impact on Hinduism, but it's also possible that they took advantage of the Hindus and appropriated their beliefs without proper respect.

What do you think about the relationship between Greek and Hindu beliefs? Do you think the Greeks had a right to influence Hinduism in this way, or do you think their actions were harmful and culturally appropriative?


ChocoboRaider t1_j0rjpvw wrote

I’m not sure I understand the concept of a ‘right’ to influence. I don’t think it’s really avoidable. If you live in a world where conquest/raiding is the norm even in far flung places, influence is inevitable. Some of it might be from peacefully trading goods, or sharing stories, but more will come from plunder being taken back to one homeland or another. And all of these are unavoidable.

By virtue of being part of culture A, any time one spends in a medium of culture B will necessitate enculturation in both directions.

The language of ‘right to’ implies a different decision could have been made at all.

Considering that much of this came about in spaces formed by conquest tells us that harm was undeniably a factor.

Isn’t this just how culture/thought develops? Apart from an isolationist model, isn’t it a given that being in contact with other cultures and religions will give rise to cross-contamination?

As for whether respect was present or not, I have no idea. I’d think it would be hard to say, but if anyone has sources that shed light onto this I’m interested.


jabby_jakeman t1_j0pltbv wrote

Can I ask for the sake of my own understanding what you mean by ‘converted to Buddhism’? As it’s a philosophy and not a religion per se I didn’t think conversion would be an applicable term. As I say, for my own understanding. Edited to say. Typical Reddit~ ask question for clarification of meaning, get downvoted!


Isabella1293 OP t1_j0pq0l6 wrote

Well I think you're right in that this is not a totally correct term theologically. But from the history I have read, they usually refer to Greek nobility basically giving up their practices of worshipping Zeus etc and switching to Buddhism in colloquial language as "converting".


jabby_jakeman t1_j0pqci1 wrote

Thanks for that. I did wonder if changing your philosophy would count as conversion given the context.


GiraffePolka t1_j0pr8cl wrote

I think it should count more as a religion, you have to have a belief in things like karma, nirvana, samsara, buddhas, etc. Plus some schools of buddhism also have gods.


don_tomlinsoni t1_j0u0gja wrote

I wouldn't go to r/Buddhism and tell them that it isn't a religion - you'll get a lot more than a few downvotes :)