Greeks in the Tipitaka

From Dhamma Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Many different tribes and ethnic groups are mentioned in the Tipitaka. One of these is the Yona. In his dialogue with the caste-conscious brahman Assalayana, the Buddha argues that caste must be a social phenomena rather than a divinely ordained reality because amongst the Yona there are only two groups, freemen and slaves, and having been a master one could become a slave and vica versa (M.II,149). The name Yona is derived from Ionia, the ancient name for Greece, or more accurately, the Greek states and people of costal Anatolia. When they were conquered by and absorbed into to Achaemenid Empire they were able to travel throughout the empire as far as its eastern borders. And the eastern border of course was far away as the western edge of India. So when Alexander got to Taxila for example, a delegation of Greek merchants came out of the city to meet him. One of King Asoka’s edicts mentions Ionas as a people on the frontier of his empire and one of his edicts is actually written in Greek. The famous gold coin of Kaniska (120 CE ?) had an image of the Buddha on it with his name (BODDO) written in Greek.

It is unlikely that the Buddha or any Indians in the area where he lived had ever seen a Greek, but the lone reference to them in the Tipitaka shows that a few scraps of information about them had spread east. Interestingly, the Anguttara Nikaya commentary mentions that the Sakyans, the Buddha’s tribe, had Yona statues holding lamps. After Alexander’s conquests large numbers of Greeks migrated to India (modern Afghanistan and northern Pakistan) and went on to have some influence on Indian culture.