AN INDIAN MONK IN ANCIENT GREECE

Historians such as Edward Pococke and Edward Moor had put forth the view that the city of Damascus gets its name from Dhammiska, an extension of the Pali word Damma, which itself is a distortion of the Sanskrit word Dharma, meaning duty, a code by which the Indian monks lived. Many such historians who have not attained the kind of prominence they deserve because of an inherent bias against 'Out-of India' theory and a propensity towards the now outdated Aryan Invasion Theory. There is much legitimacy to their contention, if one were to study the etymology of the names of other ancient cities and towns, mountains and rivers in the vicinity of ancient places such as Babylonia, Damascus, Mesopotamia and so on. But this post is about Hindu and Buddhist monks who as early as since at least the times of the Mahabharata and later under the patronage of Emperors such as Puru and Ashoka sent embassies to various kingdoms around the world. These monks and their knowledge had a tremendous impact in a variety of ways on the lives of people they made contact with.

We begin this post with the story of one such Indian monk who lies buried in Athens in a tomb that exists till today. His story was recorded by a Greek historian and philosopher by the name Nicolaus of Damascus.

Nicolaus of Damascus was born around 64 BC and his name is derived from that of his birthplace Damascus. In his works Nicolaus of Damascus describes an embassy sent by the Indian king Porus (or Puru as he is known in Indian texts), to the Emperor of the Roman Empire Caesar Augustus who reigned from 27 BC to 14 AD. The embassy traveled with a diplomatic letter addressed to Caesar Augustus, and one of the members was a Sramana (Buddhist monk) by the name Zarmanochegas. The monk is said to have burned himself alive to display the faith he had in his tradition. The incident took place in Athens in the year 22 or 21 BC. The incident is described by historians like Strabo and Dio Cassius.

Based on the different ways Strabo and Dio Cassio render the name (Zarmanochegas, Zarmarus) modern scholars attempted at interpreting Strabo's version as a combination of two Sanskrit words, 'shraman' (श्रमण) or monk', and acharya (आचार्य) or 'teacher'.

A tomb was constructed for the monk at Athens. The inscription on the tomb indicated that the monk came from Barygaza near the north bank of the Narmada River. Barygaza was known as Bhrighu-Kutcch, the name being derived from one of the ancient Rishis (Bhrigu) who lived there. Today the city is known as Bharuch.


The tomb of Zermanochegas at Athens


Greek geographer Strabo (64 BC-24 AD) makes a mention of this incident in his famed work Geographia as follows. he states," From one place in India, and from one king, namely Pandian, or, according to other Porous, presents and embassies were sent to Augustus Caesar. With the ambassadors came the Indian Gymnosophists, who committed himself to the flames at Athens."

Buddhist monks on the patronage of Emperor Ashoka were travelling from India across Asia spreading 'Dharma' or the teachings of the Buddha as early as 3rd century BC. The monks scattered in all directions on the Silk Route and spilled into many ancient cities including Khotan in China, Alexandria in Egypt and Antioch in Greece.

Alexandria in Egypt was inhabited by a
great number of Buddhist monks during
the rule of Emperor Ashoka in around 250 BC. 
'Dharma' (धर्म) is a Sanskrit word which means 'duty' and at its earliest appears in the name 'Sanatan-Dharma', the Vedic religion of the land that is today known as India. In Pali, the language of Buddhism, 'Dharma' distorts to 'dhamma'. The most ancient ancient school  Buddhism was known as Stavira Nikaya'. Sthavir  (स्थविर) has the meaning of "elder' in Sanskrit. Later the name Sthavir distorted to 'Theravada' in Pali but has the same meaning of 'Elder'.

The Buddhist monks who arrived in Egypt set up their community in Alexandria. In his research paper 'The Possible Indirect Influence of Buddhism on Christian Monasticism: an Assortment of Facts in Support of the Hypothesis", author P. A. Martin says, " There is also evidence that a number of Buddhists were living in Alexandria sometime between 300 BCE and 100 CE, and this was a large site of Therapeutae. The Therapeutae were an ancient order of mystical ascetics who lived in many parts of the ancient world but were found especially near Alexandria, the capital city of Ptolemaic Egypt.

Zacharias P. Thundy, Professor Emiretus of the Northern Michigan University made the observation that the name 'Therapeutae' arises from the Sanskrit/Pali word 'Thervada' which means 'Elder'. He says, " 'Therapeuta' is the Hellenization of the Sanskrit/Pali word 'Thervada'; they were probably the successors of the missionaries whom Emperor Ashoka sent to Egypt, to the kingdom of Ptolemy in the 3rd century as Thervada medical missionaries. Greek, which does not have have corresponding sounds for the labio-dental 'v' and the apico-dental 'd', changed the Indian v & d to p & t ....." Hence, 'thervada' changed to 'therapeuta'.

The evidence for the fact that the Buddhist monks who were sent by Ashoka to various kingdoms within India and abroad were professional healers comes from Ashoka rock edict at Girnar in Gujarat. It states, "Everywhere within the dominion of His Sacred & Gracious Majesty the King & likewise among the frontages such as the Cholas, Pandyas, Sativaputra, the Keralaputra, what is known as Tamrapani, the Greek King Antiochs, and those kings who are neighbors of that Antiochs - everywhere have been instituted by His Sacred majesty two kinds of medical treatment - medical treatment of man and medical treatment of beast. Medical herbs also, those wholesome for man and those wholesome for beast, have been caused to be planted in all place where they did not exist.....".


Ashoka's Rock Edict at Girnar in Gujarat states that medical treatment was instituted by Buddhist monks or 'thervadas' as far as Antioch in Greece.The language of the edict engraving is Pali. The script is Bramhi.
Western sources trace they etymology of 'therapy' and 'therapeutic' to Latin and Greek sources with obscure arguments to support their view that the 'theraputae' were pre-Christian or Jewish ascetics but these arguments have no cultural or historical collateral. 


AN INDIAN MONK IN ANCIENT GREECE AN INDIAN MONK IN ANCIENT GREECE Reviewed by AVinash on October 05, 2018 Rating: 5

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