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Greek Buddha:
Pyrrho's Encounter with Early Buddhism in Central Asia
Christopher I. Beckwith

Paperback | 2017 | $24.95 | £19.95 | ISBN: 9780691176321
304 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4
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Pyrrho of Elis went with Alexander the Great to Central Asia and India during the Greek invasion and conquest of the Persian Empire in 334–324 BC. There he met with early Buddhist masters. Greek Buddha shows how their Early Buddhism shaped the philosophy of Pyrrho, the famous founder of Pyrrhonian scepticism in ancient Greece.

Christopher I. Beckwith traces the origins of a major tradition in Western philosophy to Gandhara, a country in Central Asia and northwestern India. He systematically examines the teachings and practices of Pyrrho and of Early Buddhism, including those preserved in testimonies by and about Pyrrho, in the report on Indian philosophy two decades later by the Seleucid ambassador Megasthenes, in the first-person edicts by the Indian king Devanampriya Priyadarsi referring to a popular variety of the Dharma in the early third century BC, and in Taoist echoes of Gautama's Dharma in Warring States China. Beckwith demonstrates how the teachings of Pyrrho agree closely with those of the Buddha Sakyamuni, "the Scythian Sage." In the process, he identifies eight distinct philosophical schools in ancient northwestern India and Central Asia, including Early Zoroastrianism, Early Brahmanism, and several forms of Early Buddhism. He then shows the influence that Pyrrho's brand of scepticism had on the evolution of Western thought, first in Antiquity, and later, during the Enlightenment, on the great philosopher and self-proclaimed Pyrrhonian, David Hume.

Greek Buddha demonstrates that through Pyrrho, Early Buddhist thought had a major impact on Western philosophy.

Christopher I. Beckwith is professor of Central Eurasian studies at Indiana University, Bloomington. His books include Warriors of the Cloisters, Empires of the Silk Road, and The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia (all Princeton). He is the recipient of a MacArthur Award.


"The book offers a new and refreshing approach. It repeatedly calls for more work in various fields, and it should be hoped that scholars do not shy away from taking up the many challenges it raises."--Matthew Neale, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies

"Beckwith weaves into Greek Buddha long-standing questions about the origins of Buddhism, contact between Buddhism and ancient Greeks following the incursion of Alexander the Great into Central Asia in the fourth century BCE, and the nature of ethical knowledge. . . . This is excellent scholarship, and Beckwith presents his thesis with skill, insight, and scholarly probity."--Choice

"Beckwith makes a stronger case than anyone else to date that Pyrrho’s thought and early Buddhism are too similar for coincidence."--Richard Bett, Common Knowledge


"In Greek Buddha, Beckwith delves into the writings of the Ionian philosopher-skeptic Pyrrho. Beckwith's discoveries, set forth in this elegantly argued book, upend received truths on the philosophical geography of Eurasia. Even the nonspecialist will thrill as Beckwith carefully traces core teachings of Buddhism to the world of Greek thought. Here is a book that is as provocative in its method as in its conclusions. Solid scholarship lives on these pages, and will live, too, in the inevitable debates to which this tour de force will give rise."--S. Frederick Starr, author of Lost Enlightenment

"Greek Buddha is a profoundly thought-provoking work. It is chock full of daring yet substantiated premises, which makes for genuinely exciting reading. Whether or not everyone will accept all of Beckwith's stimulating findings, they will surely come away from their encounter with this remarkable book with a greater appreciation for the interconnectedness of Eurasian history and culture."--Victor H. Mair, University of Pennsylvania

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Table of Contents:

Preface vii
Acknowledgements xv
On Transcription, Transliteration, and Texts xix
Abbreviations xxi
Prologue: Scythian Philosophy: Pyrrho, the Persian Empire, and India 1
Chapter 1 Pyrrho's Thought: Beyond Humanity 22
Chapter 2 No Differentiations: The Earliest Attested Forms of Buddhism 61
Chapter 3 Jade Yoga and Heavenly Dharma: Buddhist Thought in Classical Age China and India 110
Chapter 4 Greek Enlightenment: What the Buddha, Pyrrho, and Hume Argue Against 138
Epilogue: Pyrrho's Teacher: The Buddha and His Awakening 160
Appendix A The Classical Testimonies of Pyrrho's Thought 180
Appendix B Are Pyrrhonism and Buddhism Both Greek in Origin? 218
Appendix C On the Early Indian Inscriptions 226
Endnotes 251
References 257
Index 269

Other Princeton books authored or coauthored by Christopher I. Beckwith:

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