Fragments of Empedocles in Buddhism and Jainism


By Ms. Isha Gamlath

Senior Lecturer Deptt. of Western Classics, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka


Abstract - Two fragments of Empedocles can be compared with Buddhist and Jain teachings. This paper is devoted to this comparison.

Empedocles the pre-Socratic (495 BC - 435 BC) is one of the earliest of Greek philosophers to have put across the belief in the transmigration of souls. The teachings embodied in his Purifications presents the reincarnation of an inhabitant of the mythical Golden Age. The Golden Age was one in which its inhabitants spent a life of genuine simplicity, unity, friendship, peace, non-violence. It was an age devoid of any slaughter - both human and animal Animals in particular were not slaughtered either for food or sacrifice.

'Their altar was not steeped in the pure blood of bulls rather it was this the greatest abomination among men to tear out the life from goodly limbs and eat them' (Fr. 128)
These inhabitants worshipped Kupris or love. She is a goddess who represents all the virtues characteristic of the inhabitants of the Golden Age:
The beauty of this age is completely destroyed when one of the inhabitants, a daemon, committed the sin of bloodshed and consumed animal flesh. The punishment inflicted on him is fearful In Fr. 115,
"There is an oracle of Necessity an ancient decree of the gods, eternal sealed with broad oaths that when any one of the daemons whose lot is long life sinfully stains his dear limbs with slaughter and following Hate has sworn a false oath these must wander thrice ten thousand seasons far from the blessed being born throughout the time in to all the forms of mortal creations which exchange one grievous way of life for another?." While being so direly punished this daemon suffers endlessly by being reincarnated in a number of animate and inanimate bodies until he finally resumes his divine existence.
Empedocles' horror of the consumption of animal flesh is brought out in a moving fragment:
"Father lifts up his own dear son his form changed and praying seizes him witless fool; and the people are distracted as they sacrifice the imploring victim and he deaf to its cries slays it and marks ready in his halls an evil feast. And likewise son seizes father and children their mother and tearing out the life, eat the flesh of their dear ones." (Fr.137;)

Sextus Empiricus, Advanced Mathematics 
(ix. 129)
It is known that both Jain and Buddhist teachings prohibited himsa or violence to living beings. While it is conspicuously stressed in Jainism the Sanskrit Buddhist texts too specify it. The Lankavatara Sutta first translated into Chinese in 443AD. Next in 513 AD and finally in 200 AD and published by the modern Chinese scholar Bunyin - Nangio translates the lines, which correspond with fr117 of Empedocles. Accordingly Buddha said:
"O Great wise man! In this beginningless world the living having been wandering, there is not a single creature, which had not been sometimes mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter or any other relative. The same adopting many re-births are born as deer or other animal, bird etc. which are really our relatives. How can a follower of Buddhism, a saint or a disciple who sees all the creatures as his brethren cut the flesh of all these creatures?"
Two aspects of these lines correspond to Empedocles. One is that there is a possibility that all living beings are related to each other and that a kinship exists among fathers, mothers and son and also that every time one kills an animal there is a possibility of causing violence to one's own kin. The latter tallies with the following fragment of Empedocles as well 'Will you not see that you are devouring each other in the ignorance of your minds'? (Fr. 136. Sex tus Empiricus advanced Mathemation ix 129) 
The second is that one could be reborn as deer, bird, etc. This corresponds to Empedocles fragment which describes that be a 'boy, girl, dumb sea fish, bush and bird' (Fr. 117)
According to the teachings of Jain saint Samayasara -
'Bondage of karma will be caused by intention of injury whether the creatures maybe killed or not. This is the brief of bondage for the souls from the correct stand point?
This Jain teaching corresponds to the Buddhist and Empedoclean belief in reincarnation, which causes the cyclic journey of samsara or rebirth. The soul of the daimon in Empedocles wanders, ' thrice ten thousand seasons' (Fr. 115). Similarly the Jain soul wanders in the four condition of life celestial, hellish, sub - human and human. Among the Jain sub human and human conditions are those that correspond with the births of Empedocles as mentioned in fr.117.
The similarities between the above fragments of Empedocles and the Buddhist and Jain teachings are, therefore many.

Bibliography : Prashad, B. S. A Comparative study of Jainism and Buddhism Sri Sathguru Publications, Delhi, 1982
Freeman, K. Ancilla to the Pre - Socratic philosophers, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1971
Nangio,B Lankavatara Sutta Kyoto, Japan, 1922.



Courtesy : Isha Gamlath (Senior Lecturer), Dept. of Classics, University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, E-Mail : isha@kln.ac.lk


Mail to : Ahimsa Foundation