University of Virginia Library

Search this document 
Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
expand section 
expand section 

expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionVI. 
collapse sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionVII. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionIV. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionVI. 
expand sectionV. 
expand sectionIII. 
expand sectionVI. 

15. Buddhist Influence on the West. Evidence of
any direct influence of Buddhism on the West in the
period before Alexander the Great is dubious. It is still
a matter of controversy whether the attitude of in-
difference and nonattachment which Pyrrhon of Elis
(ca. 360-270 B.C.) showed towards his drowning
teacher Anarxarchos, was derived from any knowledge
of the Buddhist ideal of the Holy Person (Arhat). How-
ever, historical investigations have shown that many
Greeks or other Europeans, living in the Middle East
in the Hellenistic period, after the invasion of India
by Alexander the Great in 327 B.C., professed Buddhist
or Hindu faith. King Milinda, whose name is found
in the title of the celebrated book in Pāli literature
called The Questions of King Milinda was identified
with Manandros, the Greek King, who ruled Western
and Northern India in the latter part of the second
century B.C. This book states that he was converted
to Buddhism. He may indeed have been a devout
Buddhist according to inscriptions, and because of the
statement by Plutarch that the relics of the king were
distributed for worship among eight tribes.

Apollonius of Tyana, a Neo-Pythagorean (first cen-
tury A.D.) made a peregrination in search of the wisdom
of the Brahmins. He is mentioned as a Buddhist in an
Indian classical work, Jagadgururatnamālāstava by
Brahmendra, an Advaita-Vedāntin, and in a commen-
tary on this work, as shown by M. Hiriyanna (Indian
Historical Quarterly,
2 [1926], 415-16). Some scholars


say that Plotinus was influenced by the teachings of
Buddhism, e.g., E. Benz, in Indische Einfluss auf die
Frühchristliche Theologie
(Wiesbaden, 1951). There are
many similarities between the philosophy of Neo-
Platonism and that of Mahāyāna Buddhism.

There is an hypothesis that Buddhism had spread
to the islands of Britain before the introduction of
Christianity, judging from a statement by Origen and
the similarity of the images of the Celtic Cernunnos
to those of the Indian Virūpāksa and Řiva. British
archaeologists officially reported (e.g., Sir John Mar-
shall in Taxila, 3 vols. [1951], I, 22), that Buddhist
sculptures of Gandhāra style were discovered in the
ruins of ancient Roman cantonments in England. Bud-
dhist images were also discovered in ruins in Sweden.

Scholars like James Moffatt (J. Hastings, Encyclo-
paedia of Religion and Ethics,
Edinburgh and New
York [1908-27], V, 401; XII, 318-19), say that the
ascetic practices observed by the Essenes, who lived
around the Dead Sea in the second century B.C., con-
tained some Buddhist elements. Celibacy, vegetar-
ianism, and a life of meditation practiced in mon-
asteries in Egypt before the birth of Christ are held
by some to be evidence for the influence of Buddhism.

A number of analogies have been pointed out be-
tween the life stories of Christ and Buddha, and also
between precepts and parables in the Bible and the
sutras. Scholars such as Arthur Christy (1932, pp.
255-56) and Richard Garbe in his Indien und das
(1914; trans. 1959), assert that these anal-
ogies are not mere coincidence, but represent bor-
rowing by the writers of the Bible. There is little doubt
that the life stories given in apocryphal gospels seem
to be modifications of the life of Buddha.

Gnostics were greatly influenced by Buddhism. Some
scholars, following Ernst Benz, say that Basilides (sec-
ond century A.D.) advocated an altruism based on the
standpoint of Mahāyāna and held an idea of transmi-
gration in the Buddhist sense. By recent studies Bud-
dhist influence has been traced in the philosophy of
Manicheism, and is found in the second and third
centuries in the works of Pantaenus, Bardesanes,
Clement of Alexandria, Origen, and Philostratus. It
seems that the first Western philosopher who expressly
referred to Buddhism was Clement of Alexandria (d.
215 A.D.). He says (Stromateis I, p. 305 A-B, as also
Megasthenes, frag. 43), that some Indians worship
Boutta (i.e., Buddha). The pyramid-worship he refers
to in this connection apparently refers to the Stūpa-
worship prevalent among the Indian Buddhists.

It was probably in the sixth or seventh century A.D.
somewhere in Eastern Iran or Turkestan that the legend
of Barlaam and Josaphat originated. “Barlaam” is a
corruption of the Sanskrit word bhagavān, an epithet
for Buddha, and “Josaphat” derives from the Sanskrit
word bodhisattva. This legend is a copy of the life of
the Buddha made by some Christian missionaries for
the purpose of facilitating Christian propaganda among
people living in Buddhist countries. This story came
to be very popular in the medieval West. Both Barlaam
and Josaphat were venerated for a time as saints in
the Catholic Church. Some of the Jātaka tales, par-
ables, and other stories given in Buddhist scriptures
find their counterparts in the Western world in more
or less revised forms.

With the advent of Westerners to Eastern countries
in the beginning of the modern age, Eastern languages
and literatures came to be directly known to Europe-
ans. A great many Eastern religious and philosophical
works have been translated into Western languages.
However, in the Renaissance period and in the Euro-
pean literature and philosophy of the seventeenth cen-
tury little influence of Buddhism could be traced. What
chiefly influenced Europe then was Chinese thought,
especially Confucianism in a form rationalized and
idealized by Western intellectuals. It was only in the
eighteenth century that the influence of Buddhism
could be seen in European literature and philosophy.

In the efforts to introduce Eastern thought Friedrich
Max Müller (1823-1900) was a leading scholar of wide
influence. He edited many Buddhist texts, and also a
50 volume series of translations called “Sacred Books
of the East,” which included various Buddhist texts of
great importance. He was effective in spreading Bud-
dhist thought. J. Estlin Carpenter developed compara-
tive religion, by continuing the scholarship of F. Max

Thomas William Rhys Davids (1843-1922), with his
wife, Mrs. C. A. F. Rhys Davids, established the Pāli
Text Society in London (1881) to publish texts of early
and Southern Buddhism in the Pāli language, and this
set the line of Buddhist studies. American scholars such
as Henry Clarke Warren and Franklin Edgerton (to-
ward the end of the nineteenth century) made re-
markable contributions in this field.

In the field of philosophy Schopenhauer expressly
identified the essence of his philosophy with that of
the Upanisads and Buddhism, as well as with that of
Plato and Kant. His idea of “blind will” is related to
the Buddhist concept of “Nescience” (avidyā). The
philosophy of the “Unconscious” of Eduard von Hart-
mann derived from this line of thought. Along with
Schopenhauer, Karl Christian Friedrich Krause, a mys-
tical thinker of the early nineteenth century, was also
influenced by Indian thought. He called his philo-
sophical standpoint “Pan-en-theism.” Schopenhauer's
admirer, Paul Deussen, devoted his whole life to the
study of Indian philosophy, especially Vedānta. He was


the first scholar who ventured to write a comprehensive
history of Eastern and Western philosophy entitled
Allgemeine Geschichte der Philosophie (6 vols., Leipzig,
1906f.). His Elemente der Metaphysik (1877) was a
reflection of the influence of Buddhist philosophy in
the Western world.

Count Hermann Keyserling especially drew the at-
tention of Westerners to the East. At the end of his
unique work, The Travel Diary of a Philosopher
(Darmstadt, 1919), he said that only the Bodhisattva
ideal would save the whole world from confusion and

Karl Jaspers examined the significance of the philo-
sophical views of various Buddhist thinkers. Albert
Schweitzer, although he overtly criticized Buddhism,
was influenced by its idea of the respect for life.

Buddhism as a religion was examined from the view-
point of a sociologist by Max Weber to demonstrate
his assertion that Buddhism could not contribute to the
rise of capitalism as Calvinism did in the West. Rudolf
Otto and other scholars of comparative religion recog-
nized parallel developments between two world reli-
gions, Christianity and Buddhism. The studies of these
scholars resulted in giving up the idea, held in general
by Western intellectuals, that Christianity is the only
true religion.

Eastern philosophy was introduced into America by
Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose transcendentalism was
greatly influenced by the philosophy of brahman in
the Upanisads as well as by Buddhist philosophy. Henry
David Thoreau tried to live a solitary life like a Yogin
or a Buddhist recluse. In the 1950's and 1960's Aldous
Huxley incorporated principal ideas of Vedānta and
Zen in his writings. Critics and writers who show
Buddhist influence include Alan Watts, Christopher
Isherwood, and others. The standpoint of Charles Mor-
ris is somewhat similar to that of Early Buddhism, as
he himself says. Irving Babbitt translated the Dham-
with respect for the spirit of Buddhism, hu-
morously criticizing his contemporary civilization.

The increasing interest in Eastern philosophy on the
part of Western thinkers gave rise to “comparative
philosophy.” Paul Masson-Oursel (1882-) of France
was probably the first scholar to use the term, in his
Philosophie comparée (1923; trans. 1926). The East-
West Philosophers' Conference has been held four
times at Honolulu, since 1939, with philosophers of
Eastern and Western countries participating, and the
journal, Philosophy East and West, specifically directed
to this kind of studies, with most of the issues under
the editorship of Charles A. Moore, has been published
by the University of Hawaii. The Journal of the History
of Ideas,
under the editorship of Philip P. Wiener, has
in recent years included topics relevant to Eastern
philosophy. A great many eminent philosophers, such
as William Ernest Hocking, Filmer S. C. Northrop, Van
Meter Ames, Archie Bahm, Abraham Kaplan, Edwin
A. Burtt, Georg Misch, Dale Riepe, and others, have
engaged in studies of comparative philosophy. Such
specialists of Indian and Buddhist studies as Helmuth
von Glasenapp, W. Norman Brown, Daniel H. H. In-
galls, Walter Ruben, Constantin Regamee, Jean Fil-
liozat, and others have published relevant works. All
these scholars agree that Western philosophy is not the
only philosophy of mankind, and that any philosophy
which will develop in the future must also take note of
Eastern, especially Indian and Buddhist, philosophy.

In the field of literature, many German writers of
the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, such as Richard
Wagner, Eduard Grisebach, Josef Viktor Widmann,
Ferdinand von Hornstein, Max Vogrich, Karl Gjellerup,
Fritz Mauthner, Hans Much, Albrech Schaeffer, Lud-
wig Deinhard, Karl Bleibtreu, Hermann Hesse, Adolf
Vogel, and many others, wrote novels, poems, and
dramas, clearly influenced by Buddhist or Eastern
Weltanschauung. Significant for English readers, The
Light of Asia
(1879), a long poem on the life of Buddha,
by Sir Edwin Arnold, was still widely read in the
twentieth century.

Western thinkers influenced by Buddhist teachings
did not accept the role of God as the Creator. A
religion without the idea of God was something new
in the eyes of Westerners, and they were attracted by
the Buddhist ideal of Compassion which is supposed
to permeate all living beings.

A Buddhist temple was established in 1924 in Berlin
by Paul Dahlke; in London there has been a Buddhist
Society since 1906. In North America there were about
174,000 Buddhists in the 1960's. Many Buddhist
churches in America and Canada are mostly supported
by Americans and Canadians of Japanese origin, but
their influence has spread among others. The Gospel
of Buddha,
(1894), by Paul Carus, was warmly wel-
comed in America as a good introduction.

Japanese culture reflecting Buddhist influence was
diffused internationally by the literary works in English
of Lafcadio Hearn (1850-1904), a journalist from
America who became a Japanese citizen, and by the
writings of Wenceslau de Moraes (1854-1929), a Portu-
guese diplomat.

Zen Buddhism has come to be well known to West-
erners through works by Japanese scholars. Daisetz
Teitaro Suzuki wrote many works on Zen (chiefly
Rinzai) in English, and lectured at various universities
in the West. Shigatsu Sasaki and in 1930 Mrs. Ruth
Sasaki established the First Zen Institute of America
in New York. Nyogen Senzaki exerted influence in
California. Books on Sōtō Zen in English have been
published by that sect in Japan.

Some Americans welcome the practical and non-


metaphysical character of Zen. The irrational and anti-
traditional attitude of some Zen masters of the Sung
Period of China appealed directly to American “beat-
niks” for the justification of their non-deferential and
eccentric behavior. Some Americans observe the Bud-
dhist life of solitude.

Pure Land Buddhism is becoming known to Ameri-
cans, first because of the efforts of Buddhist missionaries
such as Itsuzō Kyōgoku, and also from the evaluation
by the scholars who took an interest in it, such as Paul
Tillich, Robert H. L. Slater, and Kenneth W. Morgan.

The political ideal of Buddhism, as it was set forth
by its leaders, is making an impression in world politics
because it is observed by U Thant and some Buddhist
statesmen of international significance. They abide by
the Buddhist principles of pacifism and the unity of