Theravada and the Therapeutic

I engaged in some wishful thinking in a 10,000 word article I wrote for the last Dharma e-News titled “Is Psychotherapy a distant cousin of the Dharma.”

I wrote: “The concept of ‘Therapy’ derives from ‘Theravada.”

I should have written “The concept of ‘Therapy’ does not derive from ‘Theravada.

See the background to my wishful thinking in the chapter Theravadins and Therapeutae: Egyptian Buddhists . Found in the book The Original Jesus .The Buddhist Sources of Christianity. Elmar R: Gruber and? Holger Kerste. Published in 1995 by Element Books Limited Shaftesbury, Dorset SP7 8BP, UK.

Stefan Karpik in Totnes, Devon, England and Hans Gruber, both highly knowledgeable in Pali, kindly engaged in some research into the origins of word therapy. They came to very similar conclusions.

Stefan e-mailed me: “The Oxford English dictionary gives the derivation of “therapy” as from the Greek therapeia. Liddel and Scott’s Greek English Lexicon (1882 edition) gives therapeia being used as “medical treatment” by Thucydides and Plato, who both died long before Asoka.

“Philo’s therapeutes is used by Plato (died 347BC) much earlier as meaning “one who attends to the sick” or “worshipper”; Philo uses it in the latter sense. Even earlier still in around 700BC, Homer uses therapeuo as meaning “to wait on, serve”.

“Wonderful though it would be for therapy to be derived from theravada, this does look like wishful thinking to me.

“Even earlier still in around 700BC, Homer uses therapeuo as meaning “to wait on, serve”.

If Buddhist monks existed in Alexandria prior to Philo, they would have been, I’m sure, delighted to be called therapeutae like all other sects, as they would indeed resolve it into the Pali word theraputta, son of the Elders.

Hans Gruber in Hamburg, Germany agreed with Stafan.

He wrote: First, according to the German “Duden Etymological dictionary” therapeia (serving, caring), therapon (servant) and more specifically therapeutes (medical servant, nurse) are original Greek words. The term “therapeuta” cannot be “itself of Buddhist origin” or a “Hellenization of the Sanskit/Pali term Theravada”, as it is said in the book-excerpt (quote Z. P. Thundy).

But those Buddhist missionaries probably called themselves not only by the Pali term Theravadins, but also by the Pali term Thera-Putta (Sons of the Old Ones), as it is said in the book-excerpt. Therefore it is well possible that the ancient Greek term “therapeutes” for “professional healers” was also applied to them, simply because of that similarity of names and of course because of their high reputation as spiritual (self- and other-)healers.

Then it could well be the case that “only through the name given to this group did the word gain its well-known meaning in Greek”, as it is said in the book-excerpt, too. But this doesn´t mean that the word “therapist” stems from Theravada oder Theraputta. It stems from old Greek “therapeutes” which just sounds like “Theraputta”; and that Greek word only got more known in its meaning of “healers” through its application to the renowned “Theraputtas“.

Thank you Hans and Stefan. Three bow to your wise attention to the matter.