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?)