Marx, Buddha, Montessori and the Migration of Ideas

Karl Marx

Karl Marx





Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori

Editors note: This is a guest blog by Simone’s daughter, Dina Cramer.

There are a number of major ideas, which although born in one place, flourished in another. Examples span quite a range of disparate areas and I will present them here in chronological sequence.

We begin with the birth of two religions. Buddhism was developed in northern India in the 5th century B.C.E. by Siddhartha Gautama, known as the Buddha. Its message was spread throughout the Far East and it was adopted by China, Japan, and a number of other East Asian countries. However, India, where it began, is today a Hindu country.

Christianity arose in what was then Palestine, which is today Israel. This is the country of Jesus Christ’s birth, and it is where he preached and where he was crucified. Afterwards his religion spread to much of the western world. However it is not a dominant religion in his home country, and Israel, where Christianity began, is today, of course, Jewish.

Another idea which migrated from its country of origin and from its intended beneficiaries is Communism. Developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in Germany with the publication of The Communist Manifesto in 1848 and Das Kapital in 1867, Communism was intended as a political-economic system which would liberate oppressed workers in industrialized western countries. It never took root in the intended environment and instead spread to undeveloped agrarian countries, the largest being Russia and China. Instead of liberating workers, the ideology was co-opted and used as a stepping stone to power by dictators who became the new oppressors. I wonder if Marx and Engels envisioned their system being used by Stalin or Mao to starve, massacre and imprison tens of millions of their own citizens. Again a movement flourished in a different country from its birth and in a different way than was intended.

A different kind of example is the Montessori movement. This was a system of pre-schools and early education developed by Dr. Maria Montessori in Rome, Italy in 1907 for children of the poorest slum of Rome. These ideas were brought to the United States in the 1920’s but died out only to be revived in the 1960’s when they became popular and were adopted especially by the upper middle class. Since then this movement has flourished throughout the U.S., extremely popular with highly educated people, leading one to wonder why a system based on the needs of destitute Italian children of the early 20th century transferred so readily to well-to-do modern Americans.

How about labor unions in the United States? These did not change countries but moved within a country. They were developed in the 20th century with the intention of protecting factory workers and members of trades. For a while a small but significant proportion of these did receive union protection. But for a number of reasons including the decline of the manufacturing sector, trade and industrial unions tended to wither away. In the meantime, it was the public sector which adopted unions with great enthusiasm: local, State, and Federal employees. Yet these employees least need the protections that unions give as they are already protected by civil service. (Full disclosure: I have been both a civil service employee and a union member at the same time.) So this gives public employees two layers of protection, which they still enjoy today, while many workers in the private sector lack even one.

Why did these ideas fail to take off in their place of origin, yet flourish in other soils? Please take a moment to comment with your own ideas. I would be particularly interested in hearing about other examples of this phenomenon.

Facebook Comments


  1. I think it must have been those busy butterflies flying far and wide which cross fertilized and retransmitted those ideas to far away places

  2. Hi Dina,
    Thanks for your writing — the acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree!!!

    I’ve been thinking about mountain climbing as an idea that took root elsewhere. How local inhabitants never thought much of scaling the peaks around them, and it was foreigners, first the English and then other Europeans, who decided to climb for challenge and adventure.

  3. I remember tales of American explorers and settlers moving west who recounted the heartbreak of seeing mountain ranges looming ahead. Mountains were circumvented or passes sought. Who had the energy to climb when survival itself was an ordeal!

    My grandmother was a young nurse in Portland in the early 1900s when she climbed Mount Hood, wearing a long dress and laced up shoes. I have a photo, and she was considered quite daring. With a lot of extra energy too.

  4. Possibly because ideas take root in a soil where it can grow. As a Sri Lankan Buddhist I can only be grateful that ideas migrate 🙂

  5. It is only natural, a religion can not flourish in its place of origin. Jesus tried to prophecy in his hometown and the only thing he got was rejection cause he was one of them. “Wasn’t he one of us, did we not know his brothers and sisters” ,they say about him, cause he lived with them before he started prophecying about the Kingdom of God.
    If you look closely, it is not just religion who can flourish better in foreign soil, animals and plants often grow even bigger/better than they are in their native soil cause the moment they enter foreign land, they needed to adapt so they become stronger mentally/physically or their natural predators are not present in foreign soil. Actually this subject was touched upon by Jesus himself in one of his parables about seeds that can not grow if there are weeds and other plants already existing there, cause the new seed has no room to grow, the seed tries to grow a single leaf to get sunlight but in the end the single leaf was covered by weeds and other plants and it is unable to get sunlight and grow into healthy plants. Whereas the seed that falls in fertile empty soil grows healthily cause it does not need to fight for sunlight/nutrients.
    A person who has been subjected to a religion for generations has problems believing in a new religion because some aspects of the new religion might contradict the old known religion/way of life, but someone who has no prior exposure to religion would be open to embracing a religion introduced to him/her because it fills a void.
    About Japan and China, the new religion only started flourishing among its leaders in the palace at first, the general public was kind of force fed cause the religion of the emperor at the time has the backing/rubber stamping of its ruler and is the only religion that is allowed to flourish. In Ancient China and Japan, the emperor is believed to be a physical form or descendants of God or heavenly deity, so whatever they do, people follow wholeheartedly.

  6. The Universe has its own way of spreading things. Sometimes, it is hard to fathom but we can know it from the heart.

  7. Dear All,
    For your kind information Buddhism is Developed in Nepal not in India at Lumbini by Gautam Buddha. Gautam Buddha was born in Lumbini Nepal.
    I think its wastage of time and text to write with out any appropriate knowledge and its also a crime to give wrong information.
    Hope you will correct this wrong concept.
    Thank you,

  8. In practice, crops like paddy, mango, brinjal, chilly etc. do not grow to their full to give optimum yield. If the saplings are transplanted, then only it gives good yield. In a way, it applies to humans as well. Healthy human reproduction is ensured, if only the marriage is outside one’s close relatives. Thanks.

  9. Apples and oranges. Christianity was dramatically changed by Paul to be based among non Jews, giving it a wide international appeal. Paul´s cosmopolitan version grew and when it had a chance, it throttled the Jerusalem version out of existence. Buddhism in India was vulnerable to the Mongol invasion. Its opulent monasteries were obvious targets for plunder while the modest Vedic temples were not. Once the monasteries were damaged the supporting communities could not reestablish them. By then Buddhism had created a reform in the wider Hindu culture that made a new religion less imperative. Marxism too was dramatically reinterpreted under Lenin to suit the political backwater of Russia and not the industrial development of Germany or England. So you have 2 cases of opportunism and 1 case of bad luck, Not much of a pattern.

    1. You actually helped to answer my question which was: why do some ideas move from one place to another, often being transformed in the process?


  10. Thanx, LP Aryal, for the very interesting correction. I checked it out by Googling, and on Wikipedia.

    In general, for me too, and for many others, Napal is part of the “Indian” cultural tradition, and it’s a common misconception that Buddha was Indian.

    We all make mistakes from time to time. All people, it seems, have some illusion that they hold as true until feedback communication alerts them to problematics.

    THANX again for your info.

    When an illusion is backed up by long tradition, then things can easily become difficult to sort out. It then often boils down to the question of “Who is right?”! But the better question to ask is, “What is right?” This way the quest to settle the disagreement is less about a personal finger pointing, and more about a mutual quest for truth. Two quotes come to mind:

    “It’s not who is right but what is right that is of importance.” Thomas Huxley.

    One of Albert Einstein’s many most observant quotes is also relevant for us, here, “What is right is not always popular, and what is popular is not always right.” Albert Einstein.

    However, I think that

  11. This topic of how ideas take root is very interersting as well as important. When an idea develops ( is born) in a region, it usually “grows out of some potential seeds” in that region’s culture, and/or social practices. Thus it poses automaticaly a duality in its place of origin. Personalities and personal feelings are involved in an “old vs. new duality”. Feelings and opinions are important. E.g., “It’s worked well enough upto now. Why change?”
    As we see, in the place of origin there are tensions that clash with the “proto version” of the new idea. Then things can easily become difficult and emotional to sort out, because the duality clash is looked upon as a matter of “WHO is right?” And thus it becomes sort of a personality thing.

    However when an idea comes to new region, there might not be any clash, nothing simillar to compare to. There might be a void that that the idea fills, because the people of the region have the right characteristics to like it.

    One of Albert Einstein’s many most observant quotes is very relevant here,

    “What is right is not always popular, and
    what is popular is not always right.

    Buddhism Buddhism became popular in China and Japan because those countries stressed learning and academics more than India. Buddhism’s stress on the four Noble Truths, the Eightfold Way, and its many learned Sutras appealed very much to reason in those prescientific days. So, Buddhism filled a space that was “ready and open” in China and Japan. In India, and Napal, on the other hand, the colorful and the delightful myths of Hinduism and the Vedas were decisive. As Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhpada said on various occassions, “People come to Krishna’s playful sweet joys because they find the teachings of the Buddha dry (and joyless). Joy is very important, especially in modern life.

    Christianity Circa first century CE, Christianity filled a void that was clearly becoming serious as the Roman gods were becoming recognized as clearly mythological. Christianity was a SOLE claiment of a higher truth. So, for the Romans, it was a question of “WHAT is right?”. This is much less a personality thing as it’s about a mutual quest for truth and convenience. Chrisian doctrine also fitted in nicely with Emperor Constantine’s idea of “good citizens, waiting eagerly for liberation, and bliss in Heaven”

    Not so in Israel. The Old Testament, the Torah, and the Talmud were very pursuasive and believable. In fact Jesus was quoting the Old Testament very much, and preaching in the temples. He must have seemed like a rebel to the traditional Rabbis, Pharasees, Saaducess, ansd Essenes . So, in Israel, it was a question of WHO is right, Jesus, the “upstart”, on the one hand, or the learned scholars, the San Hedrin, the thousands of Rabbis whose learned comments and “parables”/commentaries had gotton into the Talmud’s 6,000 plus pages (in today’s standard print) ( Reference, Wikipedia on Talmud).

    Thomas Huxley’s quote is very appropos in directing the quest away from personals to truths:

    “It’s not who is right but what is right that is of importance.”

    Note 1: However, in respect to the very learned Rabbinical traditions we must not that Albert Einstein’s quote given above shows that Christian popularity does not imply Chrianity is any more “true” than other popular religions, or other less popular religions.

    Marxism Similar dynamics probably can explain the relative success of Marxism in some countries, but they are very complex because Marx was a profoundly broad philosopher with many insights and new ideas. As such, the concept of “Marxism as we know it” is a matter of the contexts in which it is used in learned journals aand in the mass media, and/or what a person has heard.

    Case in point: Western Capitalism and Democracies have adopted many GOOD Marxist ideas, in their own way, inorder to be fairer, kinder and gentler to the “masses” (Marx’s terminology). Especially, note that Germany under Otto von Bismarck, was the first to start this trend with such (then very NEW) legislation as accident insurance, old age and disability insurance, and sickness insurance – – all in the 1880s,, most less than 20 years after Marx’s “Das Kapital”(1867), several years before Pope Leo’s “Rerum Novarum, On Capital and Labor” ( 1891)

    1. Thank you Very much MAX,
      Some parts of Nepal are common in culture of India not the whole country. You know the truth is that the Indian Culture and Hindu culture is also invented in Nepal like Buddhism.
      Any way thank you for your reply….
      Also I am totally agreed with the popular quotes you mentioned.

      LP Aryal

  12. As Jesus said ‘a prophet is never accepted in his home town.’ All these ideas found home in places far off the same way invasive species thrive in new environments. The transformation is a truism of the law of unintended consequences.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *