Yavanas in India

The following are pertinent extracts from ‘Early India: From the origins to AD 1300’ by Emeritus Prof. R. Thapar. They should put to rest any exaggerated claims about Hellenic Greek influence in ‘India.’ The author distinguishes between Greeks from the Mediterranean (Hellenic) and Hellenistic culture in West Asia. She also makes clear that the word ‘Yavana’ applied (until recently) to all Westerners in the Punjab to terrain further East.

“In 327 BC Alexander, continuing his march across the empire of Darius, entered the Indian provinces. The Greek campaign in north-western India lasted for about two years. It made little lasting impression historically or politically in India, and not even a mention of Alexander is to be found in any Indian source.”

“A significant outcome of Alexander’s campaign, that was neither political nor military, was that he had with him literate Greeks who recorded their impressions of India … They sometimes provide a corrective to the fantasies in other Greek accounts, even though in these the imagination of the authors is not always curbed.”

“One of the enduring images was that of Alexander in conversation with sophists … This image was seminal to the view that Indian ideas entered the Hellenistic and Mediterranean world subsequent to Alexander and contributed to various schools of thought that did not necessarily conform to established views in the European tradition.”

“Indians, on the other hand, did not say much about the Greeks, and what they did say varies. The term used for them was Yavana … Yavana became a generic term for people coming from the West and was used as recently as the last century. Some later brahmanical texts were bitterly uncomplimentary and hateful about the Yavanas, perhaps because of a lingering memory of Alexander’s hostility to the brahmans during his campaign …” (Note: allegedly, he had a large number of them put to death.)

“The mingling of Hellenistic Greeks and Indians in the second century BC came about through the Hellenistic kings, who ruled in the north-west as successors to those who had succeeded Alexander. Some differentiate between the Greco-Bactrians who ruled over Bactria and the Indo-Greeks who included India in their domain; others refer to them as Indo-Bactrian Greeks or use Indo-Greeks in a more general sense. Indian sources refer to them as Yavanas.

This term makes no distinction between what some would call the Hellenic Greeks, living on the mainland of the peninsula of Greece, and the Hellenistic Greeks. The latter were those of Greek descent or of mixed descent, but broadly conforming to Greek Culture and living in the eastern Mediterranean and West Asia. Hellenistic culture drew on Greco-Roman culture of the Eastern Mediterranean, as well as Iranian sources and some Central Asian influence, and can be regarded initially as Greco-Roman colonial culture.”

“The Greek settlements in Bactria traced their origins to the Achaemenid period (c. fifth century BC) when the Persian kings settled Greek exiles in the region. These were reinforced by Greek artisans settling in the cities of Bactria.”

“The history of the Indo-Greeks has been reconstructed mainly on the evidence of their coins. … The coins are symbolic of an intermingling of Hellenistic with Indian or Iranian cultures.”

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Indian thought and the West

Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, has said,

“The Europeans are apt to imagine that before the great Greek thinkers, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle, there was a crude confusion of thought, a sort of chaos without form and void. Such a view becomes almost a provincialism when we realize that systems of thought which influenced countless millions of human beings had been elaborated by people who never heard the names of the Greek thinkers.”

(source: Eastern Religions and Western Thought – By Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan p. 350).

There has been too much inclination among Western writers to idealize the Greeks and their civilization, and they have tended to discover too much of the contemporary world in the Greek past. In fact almost everything was traced to ancient Greece. In all that concerned intellectual activity and even faith, modern civilization was considered to be an overgrown colony of Hellas. The obvious Greek failings, their shortcomings and the unhealthy features of their civilization, was rationalized and romanticized.

In the words of Sir Charles Eliot, who affirms that “it is clearly absurd for Europe as a whole to pose as a qualified instructor in humanity and civilization. He writes: “If Europeans have any superiority over Asiatics it lies in practical science, finance and administration, not in philosophy, thought or art. Their gifts are authority and power to organize; in other respects their superiority is imaginary.”

(source: Hinduism and Buddhism – By Sir Charles Elliot Curzon Press ISBN 0700706798 volume I (1920), pp. xcvi and xcviii )

Modern research, however, has marred this comforting image and is helping to put Greek culture into its proper historical perspective showing that, like any other culture, it inherited something from preceding civilizations, profited from the progress of its neighboring cultures (like India and Persia) and, in turn, bequeathed much to later generations.

We are not completely in the dark on the question of Indian influence on Greece. Speaking of ascetic practices in the West, Professor Sir Flinders Patrie (1853-1942) British archaeologist and Egyptologist, author of Egypt and Israel (1911) observes:
” The presence of a large body of Indian troops in the Persian army in Greece in 480 B.C. shows how far west the Indian connections were carried; and the discovery of modeled heads of Indians at Memphis, of about the fifth century B.C. shows that Indians were living there for trade. Hence there is no difficulty in regarding India as the source of the entirely new ideal of asceticism in the West.”

(source: Eastern Religions and Western Thought – By Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan p. 150).

The Greek Philosopher Saint: Apollonios in In India
Philostratos says Apollonios (6th century BCE) of Tyana thought Indians had influenced Pythagoras. So going to India was an effort to improve his moral education. He followed the road of Alexander the great to India, probably entering the country through the Khyber Pass and going to Punjab, where he met the wise men of India on a forested hill not far from the Ganges River.

He delighted in their company and their lengthy discussions.
He said: “I saw the Indian Brahmins living on the earth and not on it, walled without walls, and owning nothing and owning everything.”

Clearly, Apollonios was impressed by the spiritual power of the Brahmins who had foreseen his coming. He spent four months with them. They lived exemplary lives very close to the gods. They ate what he ate and shared his love for the natural world.
But what impressed Apollnios the most was the Indians contact with Hellenic culture. The Indian wise men spoke Greek, and were well versed in the Greek philosophical tradition and Greek culture. Both the Indian philosophers and Apollonios worshipped the gods and a supreme god, a divine being like Zeus, who was the father of the gods and humans. The wise men, however, described themselves as gods in the sense of being good.

(Source: Surya’s Tapestry; ancient rishis’ pathways to Hinduism)

(Comment: Eurocentrism and colonial superiority demolished?)

When Mass had great weight (Part 2)

“Do you realise that you are frightening the s..t out of your fellow Section Heads in the Branch?” asked my new boss. He too was a Roman, but was an outsider, recruited from a university. He nodded when I replied “You know my work.” He then asked “How is it then that you are frightening the s..t from my peer group? When I simply smiled, he said “Tell me “

This is my story. Out of the blue I received an invitation from the head of another department (a man I did not know) to transfer across, with a promise of promotion to the Senior Executive Service as Branch Head. A week after my arrival, the head of management asked me if I would consider a particular task. After examining the job, I agreed. To that, his strange reply was “Don’t be a bloody fool.” That was because I had only 10 weeks to implement necessary structural and operational changes, and to inform all overseas posts about the new policy.

My small team of 3, backed by 3 Division Heads, and assisted where necessary by 3 other agencies, did meet the normally impossible deadline which the Minister had set. The Departmental Head, having expressed his thanks, then asked me to accept the job of Chief Ethnic Affairs for the State of Victoria, based in Melbourne. The task was to implement a new policy of financially assisting the smaller immigrant communities in their settlement. The government would fund the employment of a social worker by each ethnic community. I was to investigate these communities.

My new small team of 3 immigrants made considerable progress, aided by my direct access to the Minister, and my ability to talk freely, on an ethnic to ethnic basis, with community workers and leaders. They liked that.

When the Departmental Head retired without promoting me, I returned home. The new Head, a returned Ambassador, told me that, instead of being promoted, I could head our London Office. Did that office need a Mister Fix-it? Or, was it a sop by a Laborite? I rejected that suggestion. Had I not proven myself – not once, but twice?

In the meantime, No.1 on the promotion list became Branch Head. I, as No.2, was ignored. A few ranked below me were sequentially promoted; and I had to work under them. With one exception, I experienced petty discrimination, and was moved frequently, with a new job each year. It was made clear, with not much subtlety, that I was not one of them. I suspected that I was expected to crack under persistent pressure.

Yet, I was untouchable, indestructible. The Chairman of the National Ethnic Affairs Advisory Council, Emeritus Prof. George Zubrzycki, had already commended me for the depth of my work and my speed of report. A few members of that Council, plus a few other ethnic community leaders in the relevant State, then supported my application for the position of Chairman of the Ethnic Community Council of South Australia and, later, of Western Australia. The pay was the same. For the record, parochialism prevailed in both States; and a new position of Deputy Chairman was then created in each State.

Ironically, because I had been sequentially responsible for all the migrant settlement (or integration) policies, I was able, after retirement, to write (with a prior prod from the spirit realm), about the great value of these policies. Emeritus Prof. George Zubrzycki was a leading supporter of the first 2 of my books. He died soon after. He had also written to me to say that he agreed with all that I had written in ‘Destiny Will Out’ – my first book – except on voluntary euthanasia. No devout Roman Catholic could support that policy of compassion.

In areas of social policy, Mass (even with limited attendance) has strong gravitational pull in Australia. Papal Bull rules! Just look at the controllers in federal Parliament.

When Mass had great weight (Part 1)

The new Branch Head, with legs crossed and hands steepled, sat in silence for about a minute. His 3 Section Heads waited. He opened his first meeting thus: “I have not attended Mass for a few years; I have been busy with my work.”

In the silence that followed, first one, then another, of his underlings admitted that they too had not attended Mass for some time. The third underling, an Asian immigrant and a Hindu, realising that a certain bonding had just taken place, silently wondered whether he dared ask about the nature of Mass. It was made clear in the following weeks that he was ‘not one of us.’

The bitter sectarian divide, which had both Irish Catholics (‘micks’) and Protestants (‘prods and masons’) complaining about discrimination by the other side for nearly 2 centuries, became mainly dissipated (perhaps somewhat subterranean) when a new government opened the doors of the hitherto White Australian nation to the lighter-coloured East Asians (the much-feared ‘yellow hordes of the North’ of yesteryear). The evidence for the latter intake is available in the Australian Census of 2002.

During the 3 decades of the 1950s to 1970s, the Asian had made a sufficient contribution to the federal public service trade union’s governing body in the national capital to be granted a Meritorious Service Award. Since the members of the governing body were almost totally of a Roman Catholic persuasion, the Asian’s drinking mates in the 1960s and 1970s included 2 Kennedys and 3 O’Briens.

That is, he was fully accepted by his work colleagues and his union’s leaders. However, when he sought to remain in the Senior Executive Service, tribal discrimination struck. In each of 2 departments, for almost a year, he had been on higher duties successfully.
In the first instance, he had been denied through a secret document which contained a terrible lie. He managed to obtain this document only 2 years later, when he had moved to another department – by invitation from its Head.

The second occasion involved an interview for the position he had been acting in with 2 Division Heads, held between 5.15 pm and 6pm. The next morning he discovered that his job had been cancelled by close of business (4.51pm) the previous day, the day of the interview! What bastardry, was his thought.

Further, although he had led a union committee for 7 years (out of 10) on merit protection, he himself experienced more petty discrimination at work in his late 50s. So, he retired prematurely at age 60. As the only coloured employee in that department at the level of Director, he did not wish to damage the department by going public; he also sought to protect his superannuation rights.

Hopefully, although Australia’s immigration and refugee policies favour Christians, Mass may not have the weight it once had.

(Comment: The small gang which made his life difficult was not racist, only tribal. The Hindu’s competence was never challenged. That may have been the trigger for closing ranks against him. Read Part 2.)

Racial vs religious discrimination

I offer personal testimony about these two major categories of discrimination. I experienced racial discrimination in my early years in Australia. That was when the White Australia ethos had seeped into the sphere of public behaviour. The trigger was my skin colour – then a light honey colour. The protection of ‘white space’ was triggered by the sudden appearance in public places of Asian students. “Why don’t you go back home, you black bastard?” was my first experience of this dual trigger for expressions of prejudice.

The discrimination experienced by Asian students was petty: we were the last to be served in the shops; or denied accommodation; there was often a reluctance to serve us, displayed by a gruff voice, and a sour look; people avoided sitting next to us on public transport; some white students would jeer at us on campus; etc. It was all quite puerile and obviously silly.

By discrimination, I refer to an act, not to a displayed attitude or an oral comment reflecting prejudice. The former can cause harm, whereas the latter can be ignored as reflecting an immature soul. In time, when the oldest generation obtained their wings, life became less irritating for us.

Yet, the record will show that I was denied appointment as a psychologist because I was considered to be “too black” (reliably witnessed). I was subsequently denied appointment as an economist with major corporations (as told to me by the Head of Melbourne University’s Graduate Employment Unit) because ‘the Australian worker was not yet ready for a foreign executive, much less a coloured one.’ Was that not racial discrimination?

However, late in my career in the federal public service, I experienced religious discrimination (but no words of prejudice were heard); that is, one would find it very difficult to prove discrimination. The trigger for discrimination in my case was the competition for promotion which I provided.

A singularly overt display of religious bonding (and boorishness) occurred thus. My new branch head opened his first meeting with his section heads by saying that it was a long time since he had attended Mass; but he had been busy at work. My peer group responded, each in turn, by saying that they too had been remiss in attending Mass! I did not dare ask what Mass was. My life was then made very difficult; the slights were overt!

As well, for the next 5 years, I was asked by 3 successive bosses to move out of my job, in favour of the boss’ choice. Then, annually, my work responsibilities were altered substantially. I kept my cool, until age 60, when I took early retirement. Those responsible for my plight were only a handful, but they were influential. To attempt to counter them would have been unwise.

That was 30 years ago. As long as those who belong to the faith now behave in a mature and professional manner, my experience should not be repeated. Religious discrimination is far more insidious and deleterious than ‘racial’ discrimination; utterances reflecting petty prejudice should be ignored.

 

The British came – and went (Part 3)

As the last British governor of Hong Kong vacated his post, he reportedly uttered regret that the British had not had enough time to introduce democracy to the island. Through 99 years?

Where democracy involves direct governance by the people – as perhaps in ancient India (refer Nehru), pre-Viking Britain (refer the Encyclopaedia of Social Sciences), early Athens (refer Plato), or even early capitalistic Britain (refer any number of historians) – not every male resident would have been so entitled. I hold to my hope that the good of the people had been the ethos underlying judgements in those places; in reality, the perceived benefit to decision-makers may have been the primary motivation.

Representative government of the modern kind, which purports to give every franchised individual a vote in deciding which political party should rule during a definable period, appears fair. Yet, where voting is not compulsory, those who eventually realise the futility of believing that they contribute to governance will not bother to vote.

In Australia, with compulsory voting, the ‘donkey’ vote can prevail. In more recent decades, many who reach voting age (18) are apparently not registering themselves as voters – reportedly without penalty, in the main. Penalties do apply to those who are on the electoral roll but did not vote.

Western democracy in Australia involves choosing a political party, through voting for the candidate nominated by the ‘poobahs’ of the party. There are no known selection criteria for candidates; and no set qualifications in terms of education plus work experience.  Elected representatives must support their party in federal and state parliaments. Voters are not asked about their needs.

Recently, the Pope appears to be the second object of fealty for both major coalitions. Accountability is only through elections, giving voters a choice between Tweedledum and Tweedledee (refer ‘Alice through the looking glass’).

No accountability procedures seem to apply to local government. There are no perceivable political loyalties; only personal interest. Rate payers, the voters, are not consulted.

Western democracy did appear to be a benefit for former British colonial territories. However, the vote available to every adult, especially in multi-tribal nations, regrettably subjugates minority tribes – even those who had lived within their own lands. I cite Ceylon, where ancient Hindu Tamil lands became subject to control by Buddhist Sinhalese, after Britain left a political heritage of Western democracy. The British colonial authorities, well-known for their divide-and-rule practices, left a legacy there (and everywhere) which makes a mockery of effective democracy.

This situation applies in, say, Africa, where European ‘spheres of interest’ led to boundaries of colonial-created nations cutting across tribal boundaries. In almost every nation so created, minority tribes became subject to domination by the majority tribe. A passing thought: Were former superior colonial Christians of the ‘white race’ then able to argue that the ‘coloured races’ are really unable to rule themselves? (Singapore’s Mabhubani, when Ambassador to the United Nations, wrote a clever sardonic book titled “Can Asians really think?”)

Western democracy needs improvement. The pretence of ‘representative’ government is absurd. The control of a nation by political parties, which govern from election to election, is deplorable. Surely democracy can be modified to be more equitable. Today, control by Vaticanites of Australian politics and human rights (a role reversal – control by a minority tribe) continues.

Hindu influence on Greek philosophy

This influence is accepted as a probability in the book ‘Hindu Influence on Greek Philosophy’ by Timothy Lomperis, academic, “of Greek heritage and years in India.” I offer the following thoughts. Extracts are shown with quotation marks.

• The author displays a tendency to see ‘revolt’ by Buddha and Mahavira against Hinduism; and refers to ‘invasion’ and ‘occupation’ by non-existent ‘white’ Aryans; and ‘dictatorship’ by Brahmin priests. Was the author influenced by the competition between the 3 ‘desert’ religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; theological control within sectarian Christianity; and Eurocentric historiography?

• Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, described by Lomperis as free India’s first Minister of Education and a philosopher, wrote “In Greece, elements of religion acquired the characteristics of philosophy; in India, philosophy itself was turned into a religion.”

• Indian author A.R. Wadia wrote: “Like the Greeks generally, Plato was intent on making the best of his life.” “The greatest aim of Plato was to bring into being an ideal state.” “The Upanishadic seers were not interested in developing an ideal society or state.”

• Plato “never committed his deepest thoughts in writing.”

• “The task of distilling Hindu thought to anything like a united body of teaching is even more difficult.” Comparing the diverse philosophies spread loosely throughout a huge subcontinent in Asia over a long period of time, with the incompletely-articulated philosophies of a small peninsula jutting into the Mediterranean within a short historical period may be questionable.

• Plato and the Hindus share a concept of the soul and its reincarnation. However, many cultures held comparable views until the leaders of Christianity decided against it, in favour of priestly control of behaviour.

• The author admits to a significant difference between Hinduism and Plato. “Mainstream Hinduism” views the empirical world as “an inconsequential illusion.” Plato “saw truth located in the world of ideas.”

Being unable to unify Athenian philosophers in the sixth to fourth centuries BC into a Greek philosophy, Lomperis seems yet able to find a unified main channel within the highly diffuse philosophies in the wide-spread tribo-lingual cultures of India over thousands of years!

• “In the case of philosophy,” the direction of influence “seems quite clearly to be from India to Greece.” The flow of fables was also from the East to Europe (as previously proven).

How else could it be when Indian philosophies and cultures were not known to the Greeks? The then prevailing view of Asia was of ’barbarians’ and “Ethiopians.” As well, did not Aristotle express racist views?

Throughout the globe, in the history of mankind, a large number of cultures would have produced thinkers seeking the Cosmos and the place of Man in it. Without physical contact between cultures, comparable perceptions could surely have arisen over time.

Without cultural competition seeking antecedence (as in theological contests), mankind will create diverse paths to understanding the meaning of existence.