Origins of the "double truth"

Bjarte Kaldhol bjartekal at AH.TELIA.NO
Wed Dec 20 23:26:45 UTC 2000

Dear listmembers,

Steve Farmer wrote:
my original post also pointed to
> extensive examples from Islamic and European thought, in which
> Buddhist contact could hardly be a factor. Many other examples
> could also be given from Daoist or Shinto or Jewish scholastic
> traditions. The point is that there is no need to point to a
> privileged tradition (e.g., Buddhism) to explain the "double
> truth," which existed in countless variant forms in Eurasian
> manuscript traditions.

Buddhist thought was known in the Near East and among Greek speakers
everywhere, at least from the time of Alexander the Great. In Antioch and
Alexandria, Buddhist traders and visitors would have had ample opportunity
to discuss philosophy withs Greeks. The Jatakas were obviously known in the
Near East. There were Indians living in Alexandria in Trajans time.
Apollonius of Tyana (c. 50 AD) studied Indian philosophy at Taxila. St.
Hippolytus of Rome (second century AD) found it necessary to refute the
ideas of "Brahmanes" in his KATA PASON HAIRESEON ELENKHOS. Clement of
Alexandria (150-218 AD) mentioned Buddha by name. Bardesanes wrote a book
in the third century AD where he described a Buddhist monastery. Plotinus
was interested in Vedanta philosophy and yoga, reflected in his writings.
John of Damascus retold a Buddhist story in the eight century, etc. etc.

There is, of course, no need to point to a privileged tradition, but on the
other hand, a Buddhist or Indian origin of the idea cannot be ruled out by
pointing to superficially similar ideas elsewhere (at a later time). From a
Buddhist standpoint, it might not be a question of "two truths" in any
western meaning, but rather two ways of perceiving phenomena - either
accepting them as "real" and suffer, or meditate upon emptiness until they
become "unreal". In Buddhism, the only "truth" that matters is the Path.
Shantideva says that those who wish to "pacify suffering", should
"generate" the wisdom of emptiness through meditation. It is this
insistence upon meditation that makes the idea specifically Indian, I
believe. This is very different from scholastic ways of harmonizing
manuscript traditions. Buddhist thought is much deeper than anything I have
met elsewhere.

Best wishes,
Bjarte Kaldhol

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