I recently happened across somebody sharing an excerpt from an article which claimed the Gautama Buddha to be a “Scythian Sage”.
There’s something of a cottage industry in propounding that Buddha was Scythian – and while I don’t disagree that Buddhism wound up having a lot to do with the Scythians … there’s something else going on there. I’ll post the article excerpt I’m responding to here:
Anyway, response begins:
No, no Buddha’s title was not literally Scythian Sage.
There’s academic debate and dispute over whether the Shakya in question is supposed to be Saka, or whether it’s another Sanskrit word meaning “adroit, capable”.
“The Clever Sage”. Hardly a controversial element of nomenclature.
The position that it’s supposed to connote a Scythian-esque ethnonym is, if memory serves, something of a minority – although it does have some influential supporters.
In my experience, many of the people pushing the line online that that Buddha was Scythian – are doing so because they don’t like the idea of a guy they like being Indian.
The work you have posted an excerpt from, is effectively attempting to argue that a Scythian ethnonym waas affixed to the figure ina period several hundred years after the figure is supposed to have lived [subject to dating issues for said figure, as it acknowledges].
It is a hypothesis, lacking in solid evidence, presented as hard and incontrovertible fact. This is simply not the case.
Now there is plausible linkage to an ethnonym .. well, more of a caste community. But also, yes, to a polity …
… except the polity in question is to the east of the major Brahminical zone.
In order for one to accept that this was a Scythian grouping , one would have to believe that a Scythian group, calling themselves Scythians (but not the usual “Saka” Scythians) had managed to migrate their way through the actual Hindu zone (plus all the other points between the more usual Scythian sphere to the west and up beyond Gandhara, etc.) … and done so without leaving an Iranic linguistic trace or historical attestation on their way through.
The extract – and I appreciate there may be more to it than this that you have not included which makes a better case – appears to suggest that it can get around this by suggesting it’s a post-facto formulation, a retroactive thing several hundred years after the guy in question by Indo-Scythians looking to stamp their mark upon the man.
If that were the case – then that would not suggest that that Buddha was a Scythian .. that would suggest that some Scythians wanted to claim that Buddha.
The other point to be made is that the Buddhist tradition this sage is supposed to have been party to – is effectively a continuance of a Sramana milieu [in contrast to the ‘Orthodoxy’ – Srauta] that was , as far as we can tell, pretty well establilshed – broadly speaking – within that portion of India for much of a millennium prior to the later datings for the Buddha that we are supposed ot be talking about here.
So, the purported “Scythian” nature of the doctrine in question … it does not make any sense – because there is no Scythian group turning up to bear it – as far as we know, anyway. It’s already there with its foundations many centuries prior to any such thing.
If one wants to torturously endeavour to re-write the known history of Indo-Iranian migrations into the Indian sphere so as to have an Iranic group calling themselves “Scythians” showing up on the wrong side of Vedic Aryans, much of a millennium prior to substantive Scythian presence being recorded to the west of said Vedic Aryan sphere … the question I have to ask is why one wishes to do that.
AND ANOTHER THING
you see that bit at the end of the excerpt you have posted, wherein a claim is made about there being some lack of wandering ascetic -ism going on in India pre-Buddha and that it’s “quite likely” these were introduced by the figure in question ?
That’s fairly directly contradicted by quite an array of Vedic evidence from, again, perhaps a thousand years before.
The most prominent example of this being the rather prominent Keshin hymnal of the RV.
As I have said – this article excerpt you have posted is just .. making some bizarre claims in pursuit of its agenda that are not really supported by the facts.
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