The Unity of Spiritual traditions East and West

As you no doubt have noticed we are all now exposed to all the spiritual and philosophical traditions of the world without leaving our own home. Today we have our Judeo-Christian heritage intermingling with Buddhism, Taoism and Hinduism on a regular basis; and all of them seeming to fight with Islam- how’s that for religious unity! It seems that the traditions themselves can be so different, yet an open-minded examination of the traditions reveals more similarity than difference- especially at higher levels of understanding. Can that be because of the unity of truth? Sure, that’s one part of it, but sometimes it seems too eerily similar, like as if the ancient mystics were actually talking to each other somehow, across vast distances, which couldn’t be true, right?… I mean, China and India are awfully far from ancient Greece and Egypt, aren’t they?

Well, yes they are but they weren’t always so separated. From the time of Alexander the great’s conquest in around 330 BC, the centers of learning in Greece and Egypt were connected by very active trade routes with Northern India and Central Asia. Greek kingdoms were established in the Northern Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Uzbekistan area by Alexander. These kingdoms retained Greek characteristics for close to 1000 years, even as they continuously absorbed new conquerers and were converted to Buddhism. Their Hellenic culture was of profound influence in the region and changed the local cultures they encountered. This Greek region was at the center of what became the Silk Road, from which traders spread to all the centers of culture of the ancient Eurasian world- including Rome, Alexandria, China, Persia, and India. Particularly under the Kushan dynasty a new cultural synthesis occurred in which all the great ideas were integrated and a new culture spread to all the regions. I call this a Second Classical Age- one in which the separate Classical traditions became one new one. What is this culture? It’s the one you live in now.

We always hear of the classical teachings but we don’t live by the understanding as they had in those ancient times, we have an understanding of those ancient classical teachers as they were reexamined in Central Asia and then reimported back to us, fused with other ideas.

The main teacher in the West that represents this for us is Plotinus.  Plotinus sits at the center of Chirstian thought as we inherit it through the church fathers, at the pinnacle of Platonism, and of Western Mysticism. The same tradition is known as Mahayana and Tantric thought in Buddhism, Sufism in Islam, Vedantic thought in Hinduism, and Neo-Taoism and Neo-Confucianism in China.

So, as we encounter these seemingly foreign schools of thought today, we should recognize that they are in fact fellow members of the Second Classical Age that occurred in Central Asia in Kushan Empire times, and are essentially one teaching as understood and translated in these different regions.

To read more I would suggest this book ‘The Shape of Ancient Thought’ by Mcevilley  , and ‘The Silk Road in World History’ by Liu. You should also Google the Kushans and Silk Road History, as well as what I believe to be the main memory of that time, the mythology of Shambhala. There are some fun documentaries on the Silk Road too that are worth watching.


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