Dandamis was a famous recluse in India in the fourth century B.C. This was at the time of the Macedonian conqueror known to Europeans and their descendants as “Alexander the Great” but to everyone else simply as Alexander. Alexander invaded southwestern Asia and then India, where his army mutinied, and he went back to Persia. However, while he was in India, he developed an interest in that country’s culture. Here he had sought after and encountered Dandamis, as recorded by Greek historians and excerpted below.
The following is an excerpt from J.W. McCrindle’s translation of Greek historians who accompanied Alexander to India. McCrindle uses the word “Bragman” to mean Brahmin.
They (the Bragmanes) subsist upon such fruits as they can find, and on wild herbs, which the earth spontaneously produces, and drink only water. They wander about in the woods, and sleep at night on pallets of the leaves of trees.
“We have … amongst us a sage called Dandamis, whose home is the woods, were he lies on a pallet of leaves, and where he has nigh at hand the fountain of peace, whereof he drinks, sucking, as it were, the pure breast of a mother.”
King Alexander, accordingly, when he heard of all this, was desirous of learning the doctrines of the sect, and so he sent for this Dandamis, as being their teacher and president.
Onesikratês was therefore despatched to fetch him, and when he found the great sage he said, “Hail to thee, thou teacher of the Bragmanes. The son of the mighty god Zeus, king Alexander, who is the sovereign lord of all men, asks you to go to him, and if you comply, he will reward you with great and splendid gifts, but if you refuse will cut off your head.”
Dandamis, with a complacent smile, heard him to the end, but did not so much as lift up his head from his couch of leaves, and while still retaining his recumbent attitude returned this scornful answer:—
“God, the supreme king, is never the author of insolent wrong, but is the creator of light, of peace, of life, of water, of the body of man, and of souls, and these he receives when death sets them free, being in no way subject to evil desire. He alone is the god of my homage, who abhors slaughter and instigates no wars.
“But Alexander is not God, since he must taste of death, and how can such as he be the world’s master, who has not yet reached the further shore of the river Tiberoboas, and has not yet seated himself on a throne of universal dominion? Moreover, Alexander has neither as yet entered living into Hades, nor does he know the course of the sun through the central regions of the earth, while the nations on its boundaries have not so much as heard his name.
“If his present dominions are not capacious enough for his desire, let him cross the Ganges river, and he will find a region able to sustain men if the country on our side be too narrow to hold him.
“Know this, however, that what Alexander offers me, and the gifts he promises, are all things to me utterly useless; but the things which I prize, and find of real use and worth, are these leaves which are my house, these blooming plants which supply me with dainty food, and the water which is my drink, while all other possessions and things, which are amassed with anxious care, are wont to prove ruinous to those who amass them, and cause only sorrow and vexation, with which every poor mortal is fully fraught. But as for me, I lie upon the forest leaves, and, having nothing which requires guarding, close my eyes in tranquil slumber; whereas had I gold to guard, that would banish sleep. The earth supplies me with everything, even as a mother her child with milk. I go wherever I please, and there are no cares with which I am forced to cumber myself, against my will.
“Should Alexander cut off my head, he cannot also destroy my soul. My head alone, now silent, will remain, but the soul will go away to its Master, leaving the body like a torn garment upon the earth, whence also it was taken. I then, becoming spirit, shall ascend to my God, who enclosed us in flesh, and left us upon the earth to prove whether when here below we shall prove obedient to his ordinances, and who also will require of us, when we depart hence to his presence, an account of our life, since he is judge of all proud wrong-doing; for the groans of the oppressed become the punishments of the oppressors.
“Let Alexander, then terrify with these threats those who wish for gold and for wealth, and who dread death, for against us these weapons are both alike powerless, since the Bragmanes neither love gold nor fear death. Go, then, and tell Alexander this: ‘Dandamis has no need of aught that is yours, and therefore will not go to you, but if you want anything from Dandamis come you to him.’ ”
Alexander, on receiving from Onesikratês a report of the interview, felt a stronger desire than ever to see Dandamis, who, though old and naked, was the only antagonist in whom he, the conqueror of many nations, had found more than his match.
—J.W. McCrindle, Ancient India as described by Megasthenes and Arrian, Calcutta, Bombay, and London, 1877, online at lcweb2.loc.gov/service/gdc/scd0001/2004/20040416001in/20040416001in.pdf as of 18 March 2008, p. 123–126.
In this passage, Dandamis speaks to Alexander.
“But, thirst being a natural desire, if you drink the water you thirst for, your desire for it ceases. Similarly, if feeling hungry, you receive the food you seek, your hunger comes to an end. If, then, man’s appetite for gold were on the same natural level, no doubt his cupidity would cease as soon as he obtained what he wished for. But this is not the case. On the contrary, it always comes back, a passion never satiated, and so man’s craving goes on without end, because it does not proceed from an inclination implanted by nature.”
—Dandamis, from S. V. Yankowski, The Brahman Episode, p. 21–23, quoted by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, theosophy-nw.org/theosnw/brother/br-radh.htm as of 7 August 2004.
In this passage, Dandamis speaks to Alexander.
“I have just as much of the earth as you and every other person; even if you gain all rivers, you cannot drink more than I. Therefore I have no fears, acquire no wounds and destroy no cities. I have just as much earth and water as you; altogether I possess everything. Learn this wisdom from me: wish for nothing, and everything is yours.”
—Dandamis, from Jean W. Sedlar, India and the Greek World; A study in the transmission of culture, New Jersey, 1980, Section III, “Classical Notes on India”, adolphus.nl/xcrpts/xcsedlar.html as of 7 August 2004.
Apparently, when Alexander the Great came to conquer India, he met a sanyasi, who was actually a great sage. The sage’s name was ‘Dandamis’; at least, that is how Greek historians seem to have pronounced it. Alexander questioned the sage: “Do you believe in God?” The sage remained silent. Alexander said, “I cannot see, so how can I believe? How do you believe without seeing him?” The naked sage laughed. He took Alexander by his hand towards the marketplace. Alexander followed—maybe he was taking him somewhere where he could show him God.
A small boy was flying a kite, and the kite had gone so far away that it was impossible to see it. The sage smiled secretly and stopped there, and the king of the Macedons waited impatiently. The sage asked the little boy, “Where is your kite? Because we cannot see it, and without seeing, how can we believe it is actually in existence? So where is that kite of yours? How do you still believe the kite exists?” The boy laughed merrily and looked pityingly at the sage for asking such an absurd question. He said, “I can feel the pull of it.” And the sage said to Alexander, “I can also feel the pull of it.”
—Swami Chaitanya Keerti, “Taking God on Trust”, at chaitanyakeerti.com/pages/latest2001/latestaugust01.html as of 6 March 2012.
In the following passage from the historian Plutarch, Alexander has captured ten Brahmins who were associates of Dandamis and asks them questions.
He [Alexander] captured ten of the Gymnosophists [Brahmins] who had done most to get Sabbas [a king] to revolt, and had made the most trouble for the Macedonians.
These philosophers were reputed to be clever and concise in answering questions, and Alexander therefore put difficult questions to them, declaring that he would put to death him who first made an incorrect answer, and then the rest, in an order determined in like manner; and he commanded one of them, the oldest, to be the judge in the contest.
The first one, accordingly, being asked which, in his opinion, were more numerous, the living or the dead, said that the living were, since the dead no longer existed.
The second, being asked whether the earth or the sea produced larger animals, said the earth did, since the sea was but a part of the earth.
The third, being asked what animal was the most cunning, said: “That which up to this time man has not discovered.”
The fourth, when asked why he had induced Sabbas to revolt, replied: “Because I wished him either to live nobly or to die nobly.”
The fifth, being asked which, in his opinion, was older, day or night, replied: “Day, by one day”; and he added, upon the king expressing amazement, that hard questions must have hard answers.
Passing on, then, to the sixth, Alexander asked how a man could be most loved; “If,” said the philosopher, “he is most powerful, and yet does not inspire fear.”
Of the three remaining, he who was asked how one might become a god instead of man, replied: “By doing something which a man cannot do”; the one who was asked which was the stronger, life or death, answered: “Life, since it supports so many ills.”
And the last, asked how long it were well for a man to live, answered: “Until he does not regard death as better than life.”
So, then, turning to the judge, Alexander bade him give his opinion. The judge declared that they had answered one worse than another. “Well, then,” said Alexander, “thou shalt die first for giving such a verdict.”
“That cannot be, O King,” said the judge, “unless thou falsely saidst that thou wouldst put to death first him who answered worst.”
[Alexander did not kill any of the Brahmins but instead sent them away with gifts.]
—Plutarch, Alexander, online at ellopos.net/elpenor/greek-texts/ancient-greece/plutarch_alexander.asp as of 18 March 2008.