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An encounter in Athens

July 21, 2010 9 comments
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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