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Greek heroes and Buddhist deities


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#1 ghostexorcist

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Posted 18 August 2008 - 05:41 AM

I'm not sure if any one is familiar with this or not, but several (reliable?) books state depictions of the Buddhist guardian deity Vajrapani as a muscular, club-wielding man is supposedly based on statues of the Greek hero Hercules (Heracles). A Greco-Buddhist culture thrived in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India during the 4th century BCE to the 5th century CE. These people were known for their Greek influenced art.

Tang Dynasty depiction of Vajrapani
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Hercules
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Greco-Buddhist statue of Vajrapani (left) and Buddhist monks
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The Buddha and Vajrapani (right).
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The deity's club was changed to a staff sometime after Buddhism entered China. He was later worshiped as the de facto guardian deity of the Shaolin Monastery. One legend set during the Red Turban Rebellion in the Yuan Dynasty states the rebells were besieging the monastery when a lowly kitchen worker threw himself into an oven and emerged a mountain-striding giant wielding a long fire poker as a makeshift staff. After he had defeated the rebells, all of the other monks realized that it was none other than Narayana (one of the his Chinese names). Thus, he was also worshiped as the progenitor of the famous Shaolin staff method. (It's important to note that Bodhidharma was not associated with Shaolin arts until 1629, when the Sinew Changing Classic was written by a Taoist.)

A Shaolin stele portraying Vajrapani in his Narayana form (Image is slow to load. Sometimes it does not load at all.)
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Another legend says that devotees could gain supernatural strength and boxing abilities if they prayed to him most ardently. However, this strength could only be achieved by him 'force-feeding' the vegetarian monk raw meat. This legend is the root of all “meat-eating martial monks”.

Did you notice how in all the statues of Vajra and Herc, besides the club and bare chest, one of the central motifs seemed to be him shifting his weight onto one leg? Look at them again.

If statues of Hercules truthfully influenced Vajra's look, then Herc indirectly influenced Shaolin lore. Another interesting thing is that the Spartans believed themselves to be descendants of Hercules. So, the Greco-Buddhist art has a connection to both the Spartans and Shaolin warrior monks.

Edited by ghostexorcist, 20 August 2008 - 01:20 PM.


#2 kaiselin

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Posted 18 August 2008 - 09:50 AM

Very interesting connection. I can't wait to dig up some info on this as soon as I get a chance.

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#3 mariusj

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Posted 18 August 2008 - 09:55 AM

Maybe macho is the way to go back then.

#4 liuzg150181

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Posted 18 August 2008 - 11:03 AM

Maybe macho is the way to go back then.

It is still in some way,just imagine Arnold Schwarzenegger before he became Governor of California~~~ :icon15:

Anyway, the influence of Greek art on Buddhism isnt surprising,considering that the early contact btw Greeks and the Indian,and that the Greeks were one of the earliest being converted to Buddhism, in fact they had a Greek Buddhism ruler named Menander I~~~
Another speculation is that Pyrrhonian skepticism,and Skepticism as a whole, might have been influenced by Buddhism as well, according to Diogenes Laërtius:

"He would withdraw from the world and live in solitude, rarely showing himself to his relatives; this is because he had heard an Indian reproach Anaxarchus, telling him that he would never be able to teach others what is good while he himself danced attendance on kings in their court. He would maintain the same composure at all times." (Diogenes Laertius, IX.63 on Pyrrhon)

Reference:
http://www.religionf...hellenistic.htm
http://en.wikipedia....wiki/Menander_I
http://en.wikipedia..../Greco-Buddhism

Edited by liuzg150181, 18 August 2008 - 11:04 AM.


#5 李正龍

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Posted 19 August 2008 - 08:40 AM

in fact..
it recorded that Buddha himself never want to be idolized with sculpture until the Buddha Dhamma/Buddhism reached north in Ashoka's reign..
the northern people were cultured with great sculturing skill..

and if you call the figure as Vajrapani, so it must come from Tantrayan/Vajrayan/Tibetan Buddhism..
not the mainstream Buddhism..
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#6 scottbajie

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Posted 19 August 2008 - 08:44 AM

I seem to recall (can't find it in Plutarch's Alexander the Great) that when Alexander the Great entered Bactria he found some Greeks who were descendents of traitors in the war between Greece and Persia (Xerxes - around 480 BC).
This is old information in my brain so I don't know where I read it originally but some information is on the internet here.

Darius I of Persia (around 500 BC) would deport Greeks to the Bactrian area (the eastern part of the Persian empire). So there were Greeks in the area before Alexander the Great (320's BC) fought in Bactria.

When the Bactrian Greeks took control of Gandhara then the cultures merged: Gandhara culture at wikipedia and here.
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#7 cloud god

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Posted 21 August 2008 - 12:59 PM

This looks interesting. Please continue if you have more.
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#8 ghostexorcist

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Posted 21 August 2008 - 11:06 PM

This looks interesting. Please continue if you have more.

Someone over at another forum where I posted the same material had this to say:

While Vajrapani, or Jinnalou in Mandarin, could have been modeled after Hercules, his statue is not as important and influential to the Chinese as Nalakuvara (Na Jia - 哪吒) who is non other than Alexander the Great. In Hindu mythology, he is revered as Skanda, the second son of Shiva. Skanda in Chinese Buddhist community is known as Wei Tuo (韋陀). He is often depicted as the guardian warrior or personal guard of Avalokistesvara Bodhisattva or Guan Yin Pu Sa. Wei Tuo is also a martial arts division of Shaolin which is called Wei Tuo Liu He (Liu He for short) that is famous for its spear and staff. So in Chinese Na Jia is the Daoist (Thunder Sect) version of Alexander the Great; while, Wei Tuo is the Buddhist version.

I Knew Alexander was considered by some to be Skanda and I knew of Wei Tuo, but I never made the connection. Very interesting as well.

Edited by ghostexorcist, 21 August 2008 - 11:07 PM.


#9 LongMa

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Posted 22 August 2008 - 08:53 PM

It wasn't just the god in question but the Greeks brought a style of statue to South Asia and also Egypt that was not there before...more 3-D type statues with figures of people stepping forward as if walking toward a person or moving their hands forward. This was missing from statues in Asia and Africa...it appears to be a Greek innovation. There were other elements of realism too, but I"m not an artist and don't remember. :)
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#10 mariusj

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Posted 22 August 2008 - 09:23 PM

Wait, why is Na Zha [Nataku in Japanese] Alexander or Hindu, or for that matter, Greek?

#11 cloud god

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Posted 23 August 2008 - 02:03 PM

Someone over at another forum where I posted the same material had this to say:


I Knew Alexander was considered by some to be Skanda and I knew of Wei Tuo, but I never made the connection. Very interesting as well.


They are interesting but I thought Shaolin did not have any martial arts division like Chinese movies.
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#12 HappyHistorian

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Posted 01 September 2008 - 08:04 AM

Do you think these statuettes and other available evidence prove that there was contact between the Ancient Greeks and Chinese? Also do you think that the Ancient Greeks were the first Europeans to visit China?

#13 ShingenT

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Posted 01 September 2008 - 10:00 AM

greeks dont have to go to china, or have anything to do with China.
all they need to do for this to happen was to make contact with Indians
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#14 ghostexorcist

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Posted 01 September 2008 - 05:17 PM

They are interesting but I thought Shaolin did not have any martial arts division like Chinese movies.

I believe he was referring to styles of Shaolin martial arts developed by laymen outside of the monastery.

Wait, why is Na Zha [Nataku in Japanese] Alexander or Hindu, or for that matter, Greek?

Hindus associated Alexander with Skanda, the god of war and Shiva's son. I guess Skanda influenced Prince Nazha.

Do you think these statuettes and other available evidence prove that there was contact between the Ancient Greeks and Chinese? Also do you think that the Ancient Greeks were the first Europeans to visit China?

As ShingenT pointed out, all the greeks had to do is make contact with India. From there, Buddhism spread into China. But one thing you have to think about is that China had been indirectly trading with the Greeks and romans for centuries.

Edited by ghostexorcist, 01 September 2008 - 05:19 PM.





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