New book: ‘Greek Buddha’, by Christopher Beckwith


Greek Buddha cover

Title: Greek Buddha: Pyrrho’s Encounter with Early Buddhism in Central Asia.

Author: Christopher I. Beckwith

Publisher: Princeton University Press | 304 pp. 

Publication date:  9 June 2015

Hardcover | ISBN: 9780691166445

eBook | ISBN: 9781400866328 

Excerpts & order


Pyrrho of Elis accompanied Alexander the Great to Central Asia and India during the Graeco-Macedonian invasion and conquest of the Persian Empire in 334–324 BC, and while there met with teachers of Early Buddhism.

Greek Buddha shows how Buddhism shaped the philosophy of Pyrrho, the famous founder of Pyrrhonian scepticism in ancient Greece. Identifying Pyrrho’s basic teachings with those of Early Buddhism, Christopher I. Beckwith traces the origins of a major tradition in Greek philosophy to Gandhāra, a country in Central Asia and northwestern India.

Using a range of primary sources, he systematically looks at the teachings and practices of Pyrrho and of Early Buddhism, including those preserved in testimonies by and about Pyrrho, in the report on Indian philosophy two decades later by the Seleucid ambassador Megasthenes, in the first-person edicts by the Indian king Devānāṃpriya Priyadarśi referring to a popular variety of the Dharma in the early third century BC, and in Taoist echoes of Gautama’s Dharma in Warring States China.

Beckwith demonstrates how the teachings of Pyrrho agree closely with those of the Buddha śākyamuni, “the Scythian Sage.” In the process, he identifies eight distinct attested philosophical schools in ancient northwestern India and Central Asia, including Early Zoroastrianism, Early Brahmanism, and several forms of Early Buddhism.

Beckwith then shows the influence that Pyrrho’s brand of scepticism had on the evolution of Western thought, first in Antiquity, and later, during the Enlightenment, on the great philosopher and self-proclaimed Pyrrhonian, David Hume.


Christopher I. Beckwith is professor of Central Eurasian studies at Indiana University, Bloomington. His books include Warriors of the Cloisters, Empires of the Silk Road, and The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia (all Princeton). He is the recipient of a MacArthur Award.


This intriguing, interdisciplinary book contains challenging findings that will provoke a reinterpretation of literary and archaeological sources, and fuel discussions and debates among scholars of Asian and European intellectual history, Buddhist experts, comparativists, classicists, and philosophers of all traditions and persuasions. At every step, Beckwith’s encyclopedic knowledge of Asian and Western history and culture, and his versatile linguistic skills are masterfully brought together.” — Georgios T. Halkias, University of Hong Kong

Presenting an important and fascinating topic, this book’s daring arguments leave readers feeling like they are accompanying the author on an against-the-odds adventure. An exciting work by an excellent scholar.” — Justin E. H. Smith, Université Paris Diderot

Table of Contents

Preface vii

Acknowledgements xv

On Transcription, Transliteration, and Texts xix

Abbreviations xxi

Prologue: Scythian Philosophy: Pyrrho, the Persian Empire, and India 1

Chapter 1 Pyrrho’s Thought: Beyond Humanity 22

Chapter 2 No Differentiations: The Earliest Attested Forms of Buddhism 61

Chapter 3 Jade Yoga and Heavenly Dharma: Buddhist Thought in Classical Age China and India 110

Chapter 4 Greek Enlightenment: What the Buddha, Pyrrho, and Hume Argue Against 138

Epilogue: Pyrrho’s Teacher: The Buddha and His Awakening 160

Appendix A The Classical Testimonies of Pyrrho’s Thought 180

Appendix B Are Pyrrhonism and Buddhism Both Greek in Origin? 218

Appendix C On the Early Indian Inscriptions 226

Endnotes 251

References 257

Index 269


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