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An encounter in Athens


Socrates being offered hemlock - death by drinking poison! The Death of Socrates by Jacques-Louis David at Metropolitan Museum of Art. Click for larger image.

Socrates being offered hemlock - death by drinking poison! The Death of Socrates (1787) by Jacques-Louis David (French, 1748–1825) at Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York - Metropolitan Museum of Art. Click for larger image.

Socrates, the greatest of all oral communicators, was freaking out over “the very latest communications technology, written language based on an alphabet” though as Powers concedes, “writing wasn’t completely new”. Socrates believed that scrolls would erode thought by permitting people to forget what they had learned because they’d be able to look things up, that “they wouldn’t feel the need to ‘remember it from the inside, completely on their own.’ ” Worse, writing wouldn’t “allow ideas to flow freely and change in real time, the way they do in the mind during oral exchange.” (via Born to Check Mail By LAURIE WINER, Published: July 9, 2010, Book Review – Hamlet’s Blackberry – By William Powers – NYTimes.com).

Indian yogis in Athens

Socrates was a great believer in oral teaching. The shruti tradition in India was alive before Socrates was born. Was that a coincidence? After all, Valmiki committed to palm leaves pre-existing history. Similarly, Krishna Dwaipayan Vyasa wrote the pre-existing history of Mahabharata!

Mentioned by Aristoxenus and recalled by Eusebius, Socrates’ encounter with an Indian yogi however, is not well-known. Mentions of the Athenian encounter between the Indian yogi and Socrates are a rarity in modern history. Socrates was accused of

disrespect for the gods whom the state recognizes, of introducing new divinities and of corrupting the young

Socrates was condemned to death by poison. Compare this to Indian ethics which forbid violence against the intellectual class – the Indian brahmins, priests, and rishis.

One question!

What were the alien gods that Socrates was promoting? What was it that Socrates was teaching that ‘corrupted the Greek youth’. The alien gods and teachings that Socrates was accused of promoting – were these from India?

Why would the ancient Greeks be anti-Indian?

Pliny’s moralizing verdict on the Roman trade with India,’ borders on being an anti-India polemic. Pliny’s India writing’s remain a significant academic memory even today.

Why the anti-Indian polemic?

Indic ideas that threatened the world

Indian teachers and intellectuals were sent to all corners of the world. The spread of Buddhism in Asia is well-chronicled. In 2nd century AD, Origen, a Christian pioneer, attributed the spread of Christianity “The island (Britain) has long been predisposed to it (Christianity) through the doctrines of the Druids and Buddhists, who had already inculcated the doctrine of the unity of the Godhead”

Why did Buddhism become the most popular religion in the world. Pretty statues, musical chants? Unlikely ... (Photo by Benoy K. Behl, Courtesy - ngenespanol.com)

Why did Buddhism become the most popular religion in the world. Pretty statues, musical chants? Unlikely ... (Photo by Benoy K. Behl, Courtesy - ngenespanol.com) Click for larger image.

Mani, the Buddhist teacher,  and his adherents, known to Christians as Manicheans were the nightmare for Christianity till the 15th century, feared by the Vatican for a 1200 years. Vatican killed, burnt and quartered all those who displayed any leaning towards Manichean-ism.

St.Augustine was canonised for his conversion from Manichean to Christianity. When Mani called for overthrow of slavery, the Vatican at the Council of Gangra, re-affirmed its faith in slavery. Islamic invaders searched and destroyed statues or boet /buta (meaning statues of Buddha?).

The reason behind this ‘persecution’?

Indian economic system in 500 BC ensured property rights for all – something that Europe could achieve only in the 19th century. Property, wealth and power concentrations in Greece would be threatened by Indic thought.

Travelling salesmen stop travelling

From 5th century we increasingly see more stories of visits to India. Visits by Indian rishis begin to dry up. The last Indo-Buddhist seems to be Mani.

1000 years after Mani’s death, the Vatican was afraid of his his ‘hold’ over the European populations.

Socrates was a great believer in oral teaching. The shruti tradition in India was alive before Socrates was born.

After all Valmiki committed to palm leaves pre-existing history. Similarly Krishna Dwaipayan vyasa wrote the pre-existing history of Mahabharata!

This is not to forget the encounter between Socrates and the Indian Rishi.

From 5th century we increasingly see more stories of visits to India. Visits by Indian rishis begin to dry up. The last Indo-Buddhist seems to be Mani – of whom the Vatican was adraid even 1000 years later.

Were the alien gods and teachings that Socrates accused of promoting, from India? After Pliny’s anti-India polemic remains a significant memory even today .

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  1. Galeo Rhinus
    July 21, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    >>The last Indo-Buddhist seems to be Mani.

    …and what about Bodhi Dharma? and several others who stayed in touch with the monastery at Shaolin and other places?

    …you are using the exact same methods as our “esteemed” historians by making sweeping statements, without sufficient foundation. Indian philosophers were often invited to several “conferences” in 11th century Persia…

  2. July 22, 2010 at 8:01 am

    1. Indeed, Bodhidharma was indeed one of the last few yogis who travelled out of India. In early 6th century.

    Indian philosophers were often invited to several “conferences” in 11th century Persia…

    You add to my thesis.

    After 5th-6th century, Indian yogis and rishis demonstrated a declining initiative. Instead of travelling salesmen, they became ‘monopolistic’ in their approach. They waited for ‘clients’ to come to them.

    Behind safe Indian borders, they could not witness the rise of Slave Empires. When they did not confront the Slave Empires in their dens, the Slave Empires came calling.

  3. Galeo Rhinus
    July 22, 2010 at 4:07 pm

    It is fundamentally fallacious to argue with sweeping statements about “what wasn’t…” because you are “cleverly” reducing your burden to show evidence and placing it on those who oppose it… malicious gossips usually have similar forms of arguments. When historians argue like this – their only intent is denigration… I hate to see your arguments suffer from the same attitude as the Majumdars and the Thapars…

    …truly disappointing 😦

  4. July 23, 2010 at 5:49 am

    Well .. actually let me add a qualifier ..

    Since the subject geography was Athens, I was NOT thinking Eastwards. Mostly Westwards – the heart of the Desert Bloc. Probably, even after Bodhidharma, there may have been some more teachers travelling Eastwards.

    And in the Heart of the Darkness, West of India, Mani was the last Indic teacher – who earned the lasting enmity of the Vatican.

  5. Galeo Rhinus
    July 23, 2010 at 6:09 am

    …again – the argument is the same… a sweeping generalization… the Vyajayanti empire remained in contact with the Guptas… harshas… chalukyas’ et al until the islamic invasion of western india blocked off the westward connections…

    …you are attempting to predate India’s westward connections… I see absolutely no validity in your arbitrary timing.

  6. Galeo Rhinus
    July 23, 2010 at 6:42 am

    …my point was that – your argument is an echo of what the Marxists and folks and the Thapars say in general… that Indians never stepped out of India… you are cleverly and selectively using their argument to propagate your own twisted thesis…

  7. raman
    July 26, 2010 at 4:57 am

    Krishna Dwaipayan Vyasa was a contemporary or a witness to the events of the mahabharata and was of course the progenitor of the whole Hastinapur family (niyoga). So what do u mean by saying that Krishna Dwaipayan Vyasa wrote the “pre-existing history of Mahabharata!” U make it sound as if he sat down and wrote on events long before his time.

  8. July 26, 2010 at 6:31 am

    1. Vishnupuran talks of 8 ved vyasas. Krishna Dwaipayan was one of them.

    2. Vishnupuran also talks of Krishna Dwaipayan as the ‘rachita’ of Mahabharata.

    3. The enrolment of Ganesha (at Narada’s instance) to write down the Mahabharata implies a post-facto record. Anyway, Mahabharata itself spans some 5-6 generations. So Krishna Dwaipayan Ved Vyas could not have been a witness to the entire history.

    4. Please click on this link to see the evolution of Mahabharata – as per modern research.

  9. July 26, 2010 at 6:39 am

    Galeo Rhinus :

    …my point was that – your argument is an echo of what the Marxists and folks and the Thapars say in general… that Indians never stepped out of India… you are cleverly and selectively using their argument to propagate your own twisted thesis…

    OK … I see your point – and I have across the hypothesis that it was Western ‘mobility’ versus Indian ‘stability’ which led to Western dominance and Eastern subjugation.

    The point I am making is something else – With people coming with bags of gold dust and coins at the doorsteps of Indian teachers, Indian teachers became rich – and the venturing out decreased.

    Maybe I should take a 2ndlook and see if there was indeed an ‘actual decrease – instead of the implied decrease!

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