Buddhism as Iranian heresy?

George Thompson GthomGt at CS.COM
Wed Nov 6 18:26:19 UTC 2002

In a message dated 11/6/02 11:30:42 AM Eastern Standard Time,
rsalomon at U.WASHINGTON.EDU writes:

> Yes, there is no reasonable doubt about this. It is also confirmed by recent
> manuscript and epigraphical discoveries. Please see, for example, my
> "Ancient Buddhist Scrolls from Gandhara" (Seattle/London 1999), esp. chapter
> 8 .
> Richard Salomon
> >  Just to confirm what he says: is it generally accepted that
> > Buddhism left India via the NW and entered Central Asia and from there to
> > the Tarim basin and that the Chinese got it from that direction?
> >
> > Dean Anderson
> >

I think that there may be some confusion here.  The point of the Mair-Mallory
"Iranian hypothesis" -- it seems to me -- was that certain specific elements
of early Buddhism cannot be said to have Indic antecedents and therefore may
be better explained as having Central Asian or Iranian origins.  The specific
element discussed in the cited passage is the stupa, which, as Michael Witzel
has pointed out, has no antecedent in India, but may rather have one in the
Central Asian kurgans.  Instead of dismissing the suggestion as Eurocentric
speculation, maybe we should carefully consider the evidence.

In any case, Witzel knows perfectly well that at a date later than the late
Vedic dates that he discusses, Buddhism did indeed leave India via the NW and
entered Central Asia, etc., and he also knows perfectly well that Buddhism is
in general an Indic "heresy."  His point was that among the Vedic peoples who
formed some portion of the cultural background of the Buddhist homeland there
were also -- clearly present -- some Iranian elements.  There is no
reasonable doubt about this either [for more evidence see a recent article by
me in the recent JAOS Festschrift for Stanley Insler].

I think that Witzel's model of a broad cultural area with permeable borders
-- and clear evidence of cultural exchange in many directions -- is a very
good one for early Indo-Iranian.

Best wishes,

George Thompson

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