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Tuesday 25 January 2011

The Black Buddha of Stonehenge

Lawrence Sutin is best known for his biographies of Philip K. Dick (Divine Invasions) and Aleister Crowley (Do What Thou Wilt), but perhaps his most fascinating book is All Is Change: The two-thousand year journey of Buddhism to the West. For most of those 2000 years, the only interest Europeans had in Buddhism was a zealous desire to convert its practitioners to Christianity. However, this attitude began to change in the eighteenth century, with the rise of a movement known as orientalism. The pendulum then swung in the opposite redirection -- from wilful ignorance of all things "heathen" to wild enthusiasm and theory-building on a grand scale. One of the earliest proponents of orientalism was Sir William "Asiatick" Jones (1746 - 94), a protégé of the lexicographer Samuel Johnson. In those days, people really knew very little about Buddhism, but they were fascinated by the way Buddhist sculptures and inscriptions were to be found all over the continent of Asia. Based on a bare minimum of facts (a badly translated Sanskrit inscription, the Buddha's tightly curled hair, the roundness of Buddhist pagodas...) Jones pieced together the Big Picture: The Bood-dha was a wise African sage, probably born in Ethiopia, whose worship had spread to Asia by way of Northern Europe, where he had been revered in times past as the god Odin. As Jones explained: "...the religion spread probably over the whole earth, there are signs of it in every northern country, and in almost every system of worship: in England it is obvious: Stonehenge is evidently one of the temples of Boodh".

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