Greek and Indian Thought
J.P. Uniyal
PLATO AND THE UPANISHADS by Vassilis G. Vitsaxis Arnold-Heinemann, 1978, 167 pp., 20.00
Sept-Oct 1978, volume 3, No 2

No two peoples have influenced men’s ideas and attitudes as much as the Indians and the Greeks have. Much of what is important in Christianity is derived from Greek philosophers, while the bulk of the population in South and East Asia, which accounts for nearly one-third of huma­nity, is sustained by beliefs that are Indian in origin and character, if also to a limited extent Mongoloid. It is a curious circumstance that the presupposi­tions on which these beliefs rest were for the first time articulated independently in two such geographically disparate regions as the Indo-Gangetic basin and the islands of the Mediterranean, roughly about the same time, viz., the first millen­nium B.C. There is no satisfactory explanation of how two distinct and divergent cultures came to manifest attitudes and formulate ideas so closely resembling each other as to be almost identical. The hypothesis of contacts and interaction is not borne out by historical evidence.[ih`c-hide-content ihc_mb_type=”block” ihc_mb_who=”unreg” ihc_mb_template=”1″ ]

Dr. Vassilis Vitsaxis, the Greek envoy to this country, whose interest in Indian lore was well demonstrated in his much-­talked-about work Hindu Deities, Legends and Symbols in Popular Illustrations has in the present work studied the parallelism between the thought of Plato and the speculation pursued in the Upanishads. Citing passages from both sources, he shows how the Greek thinker asks ques­tions that are very similar in texture and structure to those asked by Upanishadic seers and comes up with similar answers. Almost all the concepts of the Upani­shads. such as the Brahman, the Atman, the Creator, the good and the desirable, vidya and avidya have their counterparts in Plato. There is resemblance even in style, which is dialectic in both cases, and in their resort to poetry, imagery and myth to elucidate and reinforce argument. The conclusion becomes inescapable that the impulse behind the Greek genius, as behind the Indian, is to reach out towards the Ultimate Reality.

Admirable as the present work is, it raises a further question. To illustrate the parallelism between ancient Greek and ancient Indian thought, would it not have been more apposite to choose the Orphic and Pythagorean tradition, which is the source of a large part of Plato’s opinions, than Plato himself.  In fact it is with Plato that Greek philosopy begins to diverge from the Indian—take his theory of forms, for instance. The ‘non-rejection of the external world and the rational approach’, the lack of which the author notices in Indian thinking, came to Greece only with the evolution of syste­matic philosophy. Such Indian systems as Nyaya, Vaisheshika and Sankhya do not reject external reality.

All things considered, Plato and the Upanishads is a commendable venture and Dr. Vitsaxis has done fresh service to the cause of Indo-Greek understanding.

The foreword by Dr. T.M.P Mahadevan surveys advaitic thought and commends this study in comparative philosophy for its ‘depth’.