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Marion Jenis

The Buddha Instead of Zeus

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Marion Jenis

In my sophomore year of high school I responded to the challenge implicit in the words of my history teacher---a Roman Catholic priest of the Oblate Order---when he claimed that Stoicism was not sufficient for humanity because it relied too much upon reason and promised little happiness for the heart . . . I went straight to the library and checked out a copy of the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius and began to read it. That was the last time that I even considered Christianity while trying to solve the philosophical equations of believable vs. unbelievable and livable vs. unlivable. Christianity soon became completely moribund in my mind and life because it was unprovable. By the time I graduated from high school I had survived two years of atheism, which was not easy for someone who wanted the meaning of life to be enunciated clearly, as in a catechism. I was attracted to Sartre and read his novel Nausea. I knew that Nietzsche awaited me in the college philosophy class and I correctly anticipated that he would become extremely important to me. But between high school and university something unexpected intervened---an afternoon at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena. The topic: Buddhism. Well, I knew what Buddhism was so why should the museum matter?

The Norton Simon was hosting an exhibit of sculptures from Gandhara, an ancient province of the empire of Alexander of Macedonia in modern-day Pakistan and Afghanistan. I think that the Greeks of that era were like me in high school---they were ready for something that was credible to them despite their extreme rationality. What I found were rooms full of sculptures of the Buddha and various Bodhisattvas that looked like European men. So why would that make a difference? It should not have mattered but it did. It mattered in the same irrational way that it mattered that a 20th century man could find solace and a philosophical home for himself in Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. Maybe it mattered because I sensed that I myself was or could be a Bodhisattva. I had never heard about the Bodhisattva ideal, and suddenly I stood in a room full of Buddha-like men and women each of whom rivaled Christ in their passion (I should say compassion) to enlighten the world. To this day I cannot find an ethical ideal higher than that of the Bodhisattva, who is willing to delay Nirvana indefinitely in order that all sentient beings may become enlightened through his or her continual labors.

At Gandhara the Greek artists who came with Alexander carved the Buddha instead of Zeus, Maitreya instead of Apollo, and Tara instead of Athena. It was a generation’s response to the challenge of Socrates, who was accused of corrupting the youth of Athens by encouraging them to doubt the reality of their gods. I have never seen a Buddha who seemed so intelligent, or a Maitreya who seemed more noble. Personally I do not feel the need that Benjamin Creme apparently had to “stuff” the personality of Maitreya with eye-candy and presents taken from many civilizations and cultures: the Christ, the Imam Mahdi, the second Krishna, etc. It is enough that he is the Bodhisattva Maitreya. If any of my readers would like to try out the Bodhisattva vow, to be reborn innumerable times in order to enlighten all sentient beings, I think that he or she will discover that to be a Bodhisattva is enough, is more than enough, is absolutely enough as a task for a human being. 

Below: Siddhartha Buddha, from Gandhara.

2bda12729f900bac269b71c4ca976942--stone-statues-buddha-statues.jpg.c18a2c051fa085c276a652faef0148c7.jpg

Below: The Bodhisattva Maitreya.

 449870213_470151ba1c.jpg.92e2d83b19494a523a943bd0c3c913f4.jpg

 


 

Edited by Marion Jenis
punctuation

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Piney

So you googled what I said about Buddhism and the Greeks and now your coming up with another "theory?"  

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Marion Jenis

No Piney, not exactly---but what you said reminded me of something that has been with me constantly since 1971 (which shows how old I am). I have visited the Gandhara images many times since then.

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Piney
2 minutes ago, Marion Jenis said:

No Piney, not exactly---but what you said reminded me of something that has been with me constantly since 1971 (which shows how old I am). I have visited the Gandhara images many times since then.

Members of Alexander's army were converted by Bactrians and Tocharians. There is no big mystery about it. 

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Piney

In my sister's sect Maitreya is a metaphor and she and her uncle ( a Tendai priest) get really upset when the concept is compared to Jesus or any other "savior". 

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Orphalesion
5 hours ago, Piney said:

Members of Alexander's army were converted by Bactrians and Tocharians. There is no big mystery about it. 

^ This there were also some ancient Greek people from that period who converted to Hinduism. Not exactly a "mystery" either.

What a lot of modern people get wrong about Ancient Greek faith/religious practices is that many think that they were 1) uniform across Greece 2)static. I truth they were incredibly varied across the different regions and states and were in constant flux and development. A lot of people in Ancient Greece started to drift towards various forms of Monotheism (Zeus-Monotheism, Dionysus-Monotheism, various of forms of Platonism etc.) and/or Salvation Religions (such as the various mystery cults and Orphism) long before Christianity or Alexander. Some became Buddhists or Hindus during the period Greco-Indian kingdoms and Helenistic/Roman times saw many being attracted to Egyptian or Asian gods and cults (Isis and Mithras being the most prominent). They adopted gods form other  cultures (possibly including such Greek mainstays as  Aphrodite and Dionysus) etc. etc.If you look at Greco-Roman belief systems as a whole we can see innovations up to its very end with things like deified Emperors (something unthinkable in earlier Greece) Sol Invictus and heavily syncretised deities.

The Greeks were always pretty ready to adopt new stuff or change the old, as long as those in power allowed it.

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Piney
7 hours ago, Orphalesion said:

^ This there were also some ancient Greek people from that period who converted to Hinduism. Not exactly a "mystery" either.

What a lot of modern people get wrong about Ancient Greek faith/religious practices is that many think that they were 1) uniform across Greece 2)static. I truth they were incredibly varied across the different regions and states and were in constant flux and development. A lot of people in Ancient Greece started to drift towards various forms of Monotheism (Zeus-Monotheism, Dionysus-Monotheism, various of forms of Platonism etc.) and/or Salvation Religions (such as the various mystery cults and Orphism) long before Christianity or Alexander. Some became Buddhists or Hindus during the period Greco-Indian kingdoms and Helenistic/Roman times saw many being attracted to Egyptian or Asian gods and cults (Isis and Mithras being the most prominent). They adopted gods form other  cultures (possibly including such Greek mainstays as  Aphrodite and Dionysus) etc. etc.If you look at Greco-Roman belief systems as a whole we can see innovations up to its very end with things like deified Emperors (something unthinkable in earlier Greece) Sol Invictus and heavily syncretised deities.

The Greeks were always pretty ready to adopt new stuff or change the old, as long as those in power allowed it.

They also adopted Adonis from the Libyans. 

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Podo

I knew that Greek religion was very non-conformist, but I hadn't realized that there were large numbers of Alexndrian-era Greeks who had converted to Hinduism and Buddhism. I've got some googling to do!

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Marion Jenis

I recommend that you start with Google Images and the search term "gandhara buddhist art" or something similar. Then you can tour your own laptop or desktop museum. The "mystery" is not what happened in history but its effect upon me. For me a visit to the image page is a religious experience. It does not matter if anyone becomes upset when I think about Maitreya as a distinct individual who can be called a savior. I do not wish to upset anyone but I am a disciple of Maitreya---yet I really should not reveal such a thing on UM, where some things that are unexplained are also unacceptable. But while discipleship is a "paranormal" experience I do value consistency and rigor of thought. I criticize Benjamin Creme, Maitreya Miranda, and Maitreya Buddha the Christ (Ronald Spencer) for lax, magical thinking in which wish fulfillment is valued at the expense of scholarship.

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Piney
1 hour ago, Marion Jenis said:

I think about Maitreya as a distinct individual who can be called a savior.

 

Teacher who will show up in a few thousand years to some, metaphor to others among Buddhists. Savior only to the Newage who have a tendency to distort and make a mess out of everything they touch . 

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