Pyrrho's Way: The Ancient Greek Version of Buddhism
By Douglas C. Bates
The Sumeru Press, $29.95, 322 pages
Star Rating: 4.5 / 5
Pyrrho, an ancient Greek philosopher, is known to have traveled to India while in the service of Alexander the Great. During that visit, he encountered Buddhism and brought some of the concepts back to Greece, incorporating them into his philosophy. In Pyrrho's Way, Bates explains those concepts and how they can still be relevant today.
The author discovered Pyrrho after becoming dissatisfied with his Zen practice. Pyrrho's teachings offered him a more rational approach to achieving what in Greek is termed "eudaimonia." Eudaimonia is akin to Nirvana in Buddhist teachings and is best described by Bates as a happy or flourishing life. Throughout this book, the author highlights Pyrrho's teachings as well as those of his contemporaries. His meticulous research opened my mind to a new way of thinking. Notably, the idea of suspending judgement was something that I found appealing. Not accepting dogma as fact or truth seems to be at the heart of Pyrrho's work. By not allowing ourselves to get caught up in such concepts, we can free our minds and focus on things that are evident to us.
I think Book V, which ended with ways one could practice Pyrrhonism today, seemed a more logical conclusion to the book than Book VI, which appeared to be tacked on without reason. Nevertheless, I did not, as the author feared on page 190, want to hurl the book at the wall because it suggests that I should suspend judgement on long-held beliefs. I found the idea refreshing. Especially with regard to politics, which I thought he covered well by asking if the drama we encounter in this field adds value to our lives.
I think it should be said that this is a book to be studied. Yes, one can read through and get an idea about Pyrrhonism and what it is all about, but I think the ideas presented deserve more than a cursory view. I agree with the author that those who have had trouble following Buddhism, or who find Zen Koans vague and frustrating, will likely benefit from this more Western and rational approach of seeking eudaimonia by looking outward rather than inward. By examining Pyrrho's way, they may come to understand more about Buddhism as well. Also, the author gives some good examples of how readers can put into practice what they learn. Since meditation was not something that Pyrrho brought back from India, the author suggests long walks or other activities in nature that allow one to think and practice self-argumentation.
Overall, I think this is a well-written book. The author has been able to take a complex subject and present it in a manner that will benefit others. I think I will take away several things from this work. First, I should suspend judgement more often than not. Second, I should spend more time seeking without concluding. For me, this book offered a lot of food for thought, much of which will stay with me.
Reviewed by Susan Miller