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Video transcript

hello historians and welcome to south central asia circa 280 BCE we're looking at two empires that occupy some of the same area and we've got the Mauryan Empire here you can see this is the expansion that took place under Ashoka around 250 BCE so the Mauryan Empire encompasses the Indus River Valley this is today what is Pakistan over here we've got this region that is known as Gandhara which is actually we think what the name Kandahar in Afghanistan comes from today so what we've got here is this intersection between two empires we've got the cell usage Empire over here in orange these are remember the remnants this is one of three remnants of the Empire of Alexander the Great his general Seleucus took this part of Asia Minor stretching into Central Asia and so this is this is the extent of that Empire around 280 BCE what happens in 250 BCE is that a satrapy of the cell uses empire called Bactria secedes it fights a war of independence to establish itself as its own kingdom this is what we call the greco-bactrian kingdom so this is around 250 BCE and it names itself Bactria after the great city of bactrim which gives its name to Afghanistan's Bock province and up here in the Northeast you can see the city of Fergana which is today in Uzbekistan and if you remember from the article about the Silk Road this is the very same for Ghana where the Han Chinese first encountered those heavenly horses that sweated blood now what I want to talk about is the culture of this purple region of greco-bactrian because for many hundreds of years this region had been passed back and forth between Indian powers and Macedonian powers right so it has Hellenic influences and it also has Indian influences and that means we're going to be talking about something called cultural syncretism i'll put that down right here in the middle of china cultural syncretism and what syncretism is is a mixing of cultural objects that's that's really it it's it's the the mixture of cultures and ideas and faiths follow me over here because I am interested in talking about the influence that Greek culture had on Buddhism and vice-versa so these are two representations of the Buddha from around at the same time and in fact from around the same region the region of Gandhara near modern-day Kandahar so within the kingdom of Bactria that we saw sandwiched between Hellenic influences and Indian influences so both of these works are from the first century CE II but let's talk about this footprint because this was a pretty common way to depict the Buddha prior to the first century CE we see this is what's called an an iconic representation this is this represents a footprint of the Buddha you can see here some of the themes of Hinduism and Buddhism so we've got this Dharma chakra wheel in the center of the soul we've got trea rukmi's here near the heel we've got if you can see them very faintly little swastikas near the metatarsals yonder and these are all Buddhist or Hindu symbols but that approach depicting the Buddha but do not actually put the Buddha into any kind of human physical representation it's more about what the Buddha had left behind so that human beings can follow it is push that but around the same time in the same region we see this so this is a statue this is the standing gandara Buddha this again dates from the first century CE from the same region of Bactria but you can see this is the Buddha wearing Greek clothing this is a Greek chiton and that's a hematin these are these are forms of Greek dress and the Buddha is being depicted in a Greek style this is very similar to the other sculpture that we're seeing coming out of Hellenistic cultures at the same time and so what we see when we when we see this gundarr buddha the standing buddha we have the combination of Buddhist faith or Buddhist philosophy combining with Greek cultural aesthetics and indeed Buddhism was practiced in this region for many hundreds of years and since if you'll recall let's go back to the map because you'll recall that Fergana and Basra and all of these cities throughout Central Asia Kandahar's back down here are on the Silk Road that that connect the world of what's called this the West Shore to China and you know through for gone on through Batra you could get to the great centers of India you could get to Batali put rinse of onigiri and have access to to the sea routes of trade and many historians believe that it is through the cities of the greco-bactrian kingdom that Buddhism made its way along the Silk Road to the various Oasis cities of Central Asia and from then on into China now we see syncretism whenever whenever cultures combine with one another and it is said that when Alexander the Great came to the headwaters of the Indus River Valley remember this is an upper Pakistan he brought many philosophers with him to meet with the great thinkers of the Hindu aesthetic tradition and these the Greeks called the gymnast a fist which means the naked thinkers because these men were so devoted to the practice of philosophy that they they fasted and they were either no or very little clothing because they felt that it got in the way of their pursuit of knowledge and wisdom and if you make a study of Greek philosophy you will see the impact that these Indian thinkers had on Greek philosophy during this period as well let's talk about some other examples of syncretism this right here is the Nestorian steel or rather this is a rubbing of the Nestorian steel this is a giant limestone Blanc that was erected in 780 one inch on the imperial capital of the Kong Empire in China celebrating 150 years of Nestorian Christianity if you look very closely you can see this little cross up here there you go there's your there's your Nestorian cross see right there and you can see all this Chinese text that symbolizes the important connection of the Church of the east to tong china and what's interesting about this stone monument is the way in which christianity is described within it in order to proselytize to a Chinese population Nestorian Christianity adapted its approach to suit the the mores of the people that live there right so in this text Christ is described in Taoist and Buddhist term read you a little bit of the translation quote a virgin gave birth to the holy one in Syria a bright star announced a felicitous event and Persians observing the splendor came to present tribute the ancient dispensation is declared by the 24 holy men was then fulfilled and he laid down great principles for the government of families and kingdoms they're talking about the Messiah here established a new religion of the silent operation of the pure spirits of the triune he rendered virtue subservient to direct faith he fixed the extent of the eight boundaries now we're getting into some concepts from Mahayana Buddhism thus completing the truth and freeing it from dross he opened the gate of the three constant principles again these are Buddhist concepts the impermanence suffering and non-self introducing life and destroying death he suspended the bright Sun to invade the chambers of darkness and the falsehoods of the devil were thereupon defeated he set in motion the vessel of mercy by which to ascend the bright mansions whereupon rational beings were then released having thus completed the manifestation of his power in clear day he ascended to his true station so you can you can see the way that Buddhist thought is being used to contextualize Christianity and really that's what syncretism is all about is about taking a new idea this thing and putting it in line with this stuff the eighth boundaries the constant principles freeing the truth from dross what these what these Nestorian missionaries were attempting to do was take these Christian principles and recast them in a Buddhist or Taoist light taking something and recasting it to fit the context of a new situation you can learn anything David out
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