Saka, Sakya and Buddhism (fwd)

Dominik Wujastyk ucgadkw at UCL.AC.UK
Fri Nov 22 23:56:01 UTC 2002

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 21 Nov 2002 10:10:08 -0800 (PST)
From: Troy Dean Harris <troyoga at>

Subject: Re: Saka, Sakya and Buddhism


George Thompson, in private correspondence, remarked to me:

"Again, to call Buddhism an "Iranian heresy" is certainly tendentious and
provocative, but it is not entirely wrong."

And I agree with this; this playful rebound off prevailing Vedic edifice,
according to which - in any case - Buddhism is explicitly a heretical
movement. However, what I really find striking here is that those taking
cover behind predictable barricades face the additionally irksome prospect
that their treasured national heresiarch may very well turn out to be of
non-Indian origin. More undermining still is the clear implication that
the very notion of "India" itself is largely a historical misnomer.

Nevertheless, I wonder why in spite of indisputable evidence of Iranian
cultural presence in ancient Magadha/Bihar, we repeatedly find the date
"140 BCE" as the starting point for mass Iranian migration into India? I
refer to Michael Witzel:

Furthermore the tribal name of the Buddha, Sakya (Skt. Shakya), attested
only in post-Vedic times, in the Pali canon (approx. 250 BC), can not be
separated from the self-designation of the northern Iranians (Saka), _who
otherwise entered India only after 140 BC._ via Sistan.
(italics mine).

Perhaps it is just a matter of my lack of background knowledge in these
matters, but would not Magadha have been a fully developed cultural sphere
even well before the traditionally accepted times of the quasi-historical
Buddha? For as you have plainly set forth, Magadha itself is an Iranian

Magus, "sun-priest" is not attested in Vedic [but] is a borrowing from
Iranian into Skt. [This] seems clear, esp. in light of the variant form
magu (cf. Avest. moGu, Old Pers. magu).

Mayrhofer in KEWA [II.544, under "magaH"] cites zAkadvIpa as possibly =
"Sakenland"...derived clearly from Iranian.


I actually find the proposition quite endearing that to some degree the
code-word "Buddha" represents a yet undecipherable compendium of Old
Iranian asceto-shamano-philosophic lore.


Troy Dean Harris


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