It’s interesting that the Buddha refers to both Greece and Persia in the Assalāyana Sutta,
“What do you think, Assalāyana? Have you heard that in Greece and Persia and other foreign lands there are only two classes, masters and bonded servants; and that masters may become servants, and servants masters?”
I’m not too good in history, so excuse me for this, but is there any historical basis for this statement, or where would the Buddha have gotten it from?
There is. The Buddha’s life was contemporaneous with the Greek golden age, when ideas about the democracy we have now were developing. Also the idea of the middle way was similar to the golden mean of Greek thought.
Socrates : But now we notice that the force of the good has taken up refuge in an alliance with the nature of the beautiful. For measure and proportion manifest themselves in all areas of beauty and virtue."
“I tell you, monks, awareness-release through good will has the beautiful as its excellence — in the case of one who has penetrated to no higher release. ”
—Samyutta Nikaya 46.54
There is a later section in the Pali Canon of the “Questions of King Milinda,” a Greek.
“Tribes like the Buddha’s could be found everywhere in the 6th century BCE, but the Shakyas stand out because their form of government strikingly resembles that of ancient Athens. According to Buddhist sources, the Shakya republic was governed from its capital, Kapilavasthu, by an assembly (the parishad) of five hundred citizens. Though not as large as the Athenian assembly (with its quorum of six thousand for major decisions), the Shakyan legislature needed an officer to manage the proceedings and so elected a raja, something like our Speaker of the House.”
My understanding is that Alexander the Great’s little trip over to India was indeed post-Buddha, but that there had been trade between East and West™️ for a long time before. For example, both Greek and Sanskrit are PIE languages…
My understanding is that the Buddha was referring to the great difference in social order and structure that existed in Greece at that time. During Plato’s time, which was not too long after the Buddha’s life-time, the Greek states frequently warred with each other. When one city/state won a decisive battle they would sometimes enslave the men of the opposing army. Plato describes and condemns this practice in his LAWS. This type of slavery also meant that men could earn their way out of the slavery occasionally or even be released at some point. Such men, released from slavery, might return to their home city where they were actually slave owners. So in that way, there was a type of interchange between master and slave status possible. The Buddha mentions that as a type of social system that defied the very rigid, born-into, caste structure that existed in India at the time. I believe he used that reference to support his point that there was no inherent justification for separating people into castes. It all depended on who one’s parents were and not some inherent valuation as a human being. That being said, I don’t believe the Buddha was actually criticizing the caste system either, just stating that it was no dependable indication of noble or ignoble qualities.