The march to the ocean to make salt led by Gandhi in 1930, and its aftermath, are justly famous as exemplifying non-violent resistance through moral force. There is, however, a relatively uncelebrated, and amusing, historical resonance to the fame of this episode, which I feel it my duty to help disseminate further. We don't quite have a parallel on our hands, but perhaps we can think of it this way: the Hindu Gandhi's efforts to subvert the British imperial regime in India by disobeying its laws regarding the production and sale of salt constituted a sympathetic tone produced from the resounding event that was the birth of Buddhism.
Walter Kaufmann claims in his introduction to Existentialism from Dostoevsky to Sartre that existentialism is a philosophy which has been discovered and rediscovered countless times owing to the bleakness and emptiness of this life; the same could not be true of Buddhism, for which the ground had carefully to be prepared: it is essential that Siddhartha have been born into a life of kingly luxury and ease, for, had he been accustomed to the meaningless pain and suffering endemic to human life from an early age, their discovery could never have been revelatory to him. Encountering them for the first time as an adult, no cynical or world-weary responses (this is all there is) are elicited; instead, the shock spurs him to go beyond the appearances embraced by Kaufmann's heroes. This could never have happened had not Siddhartha's family had the power to shield him from the realities of this-worldly existence for as long as they did, yet it is rarely asked, how came they by the resources and power to do this? What was the source of their familial wealth and influence?
Were the question posed in another context, I would not expect any of my readers to know the answer; having introduced it the way I have, however, I do not think anyone will be surprised when I say: they (or rather their forebears) controlled the salt trade in India. In fact, they were so widely known for this that in the Hellenic word India was occasionally referred to as the mono-sodium Gautamate. Siddhartha did not, of course, attempt to undermine his family's empire, though a single-minded and tendentious commentator might describe his abandonment of his father's house as something like civil disobedience, where the authority disobeyed is that of grasping desire itself, this does not seem quite apt. But there can be no doubt that the system Siddhartha founded was momentous in India's history, and that Gandhi's peaceful, almost passive resistance in the face of British imperialism owes much to it: the mineralogical coïncidence is, if its significance is not immediately obvious, at the very least interesting, and worth pointing out.