Why would I spend a good portion of my time over the last 35 years gathering information on the Gymnosophists? The story begins even earlier. As an undergraduate student in the Flint College of the University of Michigan, I pursued an English major with a strong history minor-always looking for something between the two, and rarely finding it. Then in my practice teaching, I happened into one of the early experimental high school courses in Interdisciplinary Humanities. With the exciting interrelationships between art, literature, music, philosophy and history, I said YES-this was what I had been looking for.
So I pioneered in teaching high school Humanities for the next few years. Interdisciplinary Humanities was a bottom-up movement. Gradually, colleges began offering Masters programs to give teachers the rich background they needed. I decided I was not tied to Michigan where it was cold; I would find the best Masters program in Humanities anywhere in the world, and go there. Well, it turned out that the best Masters program in the world was at Wayne State University in Detroit, of all places. Unlike other programs that were really just double majors, Wayne offered truly interdisciplinary classes. Moreover, they offered an Eastern track and a Western track. Knowing that I would never find that Eastern track anywhere else, I studied interdisciplinary courses in the cultures of India, China, Japan, and Egypt. (The middle-eastern professor was on sabbatical when I was there.) I especially liked India-perhaps because I had already travelled around the world, and India impressed me the most.
I taught college Humanities courses (both Eastern and Western) for the next few years. I had long been aware of the only good Ph.D. program in Humanities at Florida State University, but they emphasized classical Greece and Rome. I couldn't see a connection between that and what I had been studying. Then one day, I came across a reference to the Gymnosophists-the naked philosophers Alexander the Great met in India. I had never heard of them before, and all I could find was about half-an-inch of footnote space. I said, "There is my dissertation topic. It connects East and West, it hasn't been done, and naked people are a subject that won't eventually bore me." All of these things proved true. At FSU, I was able to write my own program. When the topic grew too large for one dissertation, I chopped it in half-dealing only with what happened in India.
European and Middle-Eastern connections kept trickling in over the next many years of teaching. In the summers, I wrote articles published by the Indian Society for Greek and Roman Studies. (I never could teach and write at the same time; both require total commitment.) For fifty years, I rode the Interdisciplinary Humanities wave until it eventually subsided. Both of the graduate programs where I studied have gone extinct by now, but so far I have not. Yet now that I have retired, the time has come to gather my research and hard-to-find scholarly journal articles scattered across four continents. At a recent conference in India, I found I am now regarded as a senior scholar in the field. Fortunately, everyone else has had the good taste to avoid the topic, so I still have it pretty much to myself. I often remind my students that if you are truly pioneering-going where no scholar has gone before-there won't be anyone already waiting at the end to hand you an award. Understanding and helping others to understand must be their own rewards.
The Gymnosophists were a small religious group in India. They lasted only two centuries.
But in their last days, they happened to meet with the invading soldiers of Alexander the Great. Marvelous things came from that cross-fertilization of cultures-each with its own nude tradition. Greek art, and even athletics, flowed east. Indian philosophical concepts flowed west.
For twenty-three centuries, this small band of naked philosophers has continued to fascinate the West. Age after age has reshaped their story. In essence, this book tells the same story 91 different ways. One can legitimately say that each succeeding age wandered farther from the truth. Yet, in another way, the unencumbered Gymnosophists have helped thinking people of each age to discover their own truths.
The original Gymnosophists would remind us that truths are many and elusive. They would encourage us to actively strip away all unessentials, past and present, to arrive at a natural tolerance that spreads peace in our lives.
There is no indication that this exciting process will end anytime soon.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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