These issues of the soul were also the concern of the contemporary Greek philosophers. Hence Megasthenes continued with a direct comparison of the Indian Brahmins with the Greek philosophers concluding, that they share the same philosophical themes: on many points their opinions coincide with those of the Greeks, for like them they say that the world has a beginning, and is liable for destruction, and is in shape spherical, and that deity who made it, and who governs it, is diffused through all its parts … concerning generation, and the nature of the Soul, and many other subjects, they express views like these maintained by the Greeks. They wrap up their doctrines of immortality and future judgment, and kindred topics in allegories, after the manner of Plato.
I will return later to these observations of similarities between Greek and Indian Axial Age wisdom discourses with which many modern historians agree. What comes across in Megasthenes' account is that both he and the locals saw the Brahmins and Sramanas as variants of the same social classification: in sociological terms they were perceived as belonging to the same cultural field'. In Megasthenes' imagination, it is mainly philosophy that unites these two groups – their love of knowledge and debate so well known to him and to the Greeks. But it is also evident from his observations that these groups seem to share an unusual way of living an austere lifestyle. They are not only philosophers – they are naked philosophers; ascetics.
Somehow these groups of ascetic philosophers turned their lifestyle into a way of living: a profession embedded in its own separate culture, a cultural field in other words. They managed to turn into a profession what made them special and different culturally. This cultural difference, this distinction – their cultural or symbolic capital – they exchanged with society122. Finally we can conclude that these groups must have had a significant presence in Indian society, like similar philosophers had in Greek and Chinese Axial Age civilisations. The Indian Gymnosophists could not just have been tiny marginal groups, since a foreigner representing a different Axial Age civilisation was able to recognise them as a social entity, worth mentioning in his description of India's social life.
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