b.c.(f01>, how did emblem and statue--both European--come to appear there? Ancient Egypt's idea of the examination and judgement of the dead is duplicated there too by a judge inspecting the soul of the dead man.
The idea that everything is God is the basic idea of pantheism. Its intellectual acceptance appears to cancel acceptance of the idea that man has any freedom at all, whether in himself, his choices, or his acts. It cancels, too, the idea that there is any suffering or sin in the universe, that any event in its history is wrong or evil or ought not to have happened. It puts beauty and order, harmony and righteousness in control of the universe.
Pantheism, which absorbs the finite into the infinite, leaves the lost world illusory and the self merely apparent.
Freemasonry: The roots of Freemasonry have been attributed both by its own pioneers and by history to lie embedded in ancient Egypt. The cultural connection of ancient Egypt and ancient India is now slowly being established; the philosophic and religious indebtedness of the country of the Nile to the country of the Ganges is being uncovered by history and archaeology. This esoteric system admittedly once fulfilled a far loftier mission than it does today and was therefore worked in an atmosphere of greater secrecy. It was closely connected with religion, mysticism, ethics, and philosophy. Even today we find that it still possesses three progressive degrees of initiation, whose names are drawn from the act of building: the "Entered Apprentice," the "Craftsman," and the "Master Mason." The first degree represents spiritual faculties just dawning; the second degree represents those same faculties grown quite active; the third degree represents the quest and the ultimate discovery within himself of the true Self. If the earlier degrees teach him how to behave towards others, the last degree teaches him rightly how to behave towards himself. For here his search ends in undergoing the mystical death of the ego, which allows him to live in his own spiritual centre henceforth.
Whoever fulfils the Masonic rule of being "of lawful age and well recommended" may then knock as "a poor blind candidate" at the door of the Master's chamber for admittance. The initiation of the novice into the first degree of Masonry is symbolically performed while he is half-clothed. He is then called an "Entered Apprentice." All men throughout the world who sincerely and seriously adopt religion because they apprehend a mystery to be concealed behind the universe, thereby unconsciously enter this degree. All religious men who live up to their ethical obligations and thus make themselves worthy are eventually passed into the second degree, that of "Fellow Craft." This symbolizes the stage of mysticism wherein the seeking mind passes halfway behind the symbol. It is the mystics who consecrate their quest to inner contemplation within themselves rather than in external churches or temples. They furnish from among their number the few who have discovered that service is the most powerful means of advancement and who are raised to the third degree of a fully-robed "Master Mason." He alone is given the clue whereby he may recover the "Lost Word" of the true Self, the ultimate Reality, a secret now vanished from the ken of the modern successors of Enoch and Hiram Abiff. And he alone dons blue robes as a token of his universal outlook--that same blue which is the colour of the cloudless overarching sky that covers all creatures on the planet.
Apart from its use of the solar symbol, in this highest grade, of the sun at noon as a sign that the Master will work for the enlightenment of all, you will find that Masonry has indicated its worship of Light by including the cock in its ceremonial rites. For this is the bird which rises with the sun; which, in fact, vigorously and loudly informs its little world that the dawn is at hand and that the benign rays will soon be shed upon it.
Mount Athos--the "Holy Mountain"--the scenic promontory which juts into the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey: the peak looks like a white marble pyramid. Here a group of monasteries, sanctuaries and hermitages cover a narrow forty mile long strip of land.
Athos, the Holy Mountain:
(1) As the ship moved eastwards, the Holy Mount came into sight on the port side--a six thousand foot pyramidal peak jutting straight out of the blue water into the blue sky.
(2) The path passed through dark-green leafy forest and occasional tumbled boulders.
(3) The sea which washes Athos' shores can get exceedingly rough (an invading Persian fleet was once largely smashed to pieces on its rocks).
(4) Most of the three thousand monks are housed in the large monasteries and have to conform to the fixed strict rules and obey the abbots. But of the remaining monks, some live in little huts, retreats, or cells centering around a point where once, occasionally even now, there lived an anchorite whose sanctity drew disciples or followers around him. These come into contact from time to time, as often or as little as they wish, such is the flexibility of this system. Others live away from their fellows altogether, in wilder, more deserted parts of the peninsula where they can find the full independence and solitude they desire. Thus the three types exist side by side, whether sharing the common life of a large monastery, the semi-common life of small houses and cottages grouped around a church, or the complete solitude of hut and cave. I found much the same arrangement in India at the foot of the Himalayas, in the communities of holy men at Hardwar and at Rishikesh, where even the total population was about the same as at Mount Athos. There is even a fourth type, peculiar to Athos itself and not likely to be matched easily anywhere else in the Asiatic or Western worlds. Such monks seek to combine the advantages of organized communal life with those of private life, the benefits of large buildings with those of independent quarters.
(5) Athos is a working community. The monks are active enough getting their food and attending to other chores to be in no peril of becoming torpid and lazy. Everyone contributes with the labour of his hands to satisfying the body's inescapable needs of food, clothing, fuel, and shelter, or supplements the monastery's slender income by making religious souvenirs for selling to the mainland.
(6) Philip Sherrard's story is simple. "I was walking in a village on a Greek island away from the tourist track and saw a simple peasant sitting by the roadside reading. He looked up at me and exclaimed: `This is a wonderful book!' I examined it and found it to be a volume of writings by one of the Orthodox Church mystics. I discovered that here, in Christianity, were the teachings, the mode of life, the practices of contemplation, the theology, which had attracted me towards India and its Vedanta. Eventually I became a member of the Church."
(7) I began to feel the aura of peace which surrounded and held Athos whenever a boat brought me to a monastery's landing stage or a mule carried me along steep tracks from one settlement to another.
(8) The Monastery of Dionysiou appears high up on a cliffside, looking just like a Tibetan one except that it overlooks a bit of beach and a lot of sea.
(9) Perhaps the oldest and largest of all the monasteries is the Lavra--really an entire group of several picturesque buildings set within a walled fort. A reminder of the grim old days when pirates or raiders--European, African, or Asiatic--made descents on Athos in search of plunder or intent on murder is the pair of great double doors, thick enough already but still covered with sheets of iron. The monks sit in their little cells, which branch off from long well-trodden wooden galleries, or in the plain unornamented wooden balconies jutting from the outside wall and overlooking the courtyard.
(10) It is when eventide comes that the tranquillity of Athos comes to its own fullness, covering everyone and everything with the presence of God.
(11) These icons are venerated here in a way that the science-minded realists of America and the rest of Europe may not appreciate and are unlikely to understand. For they are regarded not merely as decorations and inspirations, but also as sources of holy power, links connecting the worshipper with the long-departed saints they depict. They are used in prayer, and particularly in intercessory prayer.
(12) The bits of bone, the skulls, and the other relics of long-dead holy men are not so attractive or so well appreciated by the modern Western mind--although their jewelled cases may be--but the colourful, illuminated manuscripts, the boxes of fine, rare, and ancient books would provide the religious scholar and the devotee of mysticism with many weeks of fascinating study could he but read them.
(13) Many years ago I gave, in the thirteenth chapter of The Quest of the Overself, an exercise for centering attention in the heart as a means of spiritual awakening. It had been taught to me first in Europe by Brother M., the adept who died forty years ago, and later in India by Ramana Maharshi. I learn that the exercise has been known and practised by Eastern Church mystics for many centuries. In the fourth century that best known of the Fathers, Chrysostom of Constantinople, taught the method of "praying truly which finally leads to a state in which the mind is always in the heart." And in a later century, Gregory the Sinaite wrote: "Lead your mind down from your head into your heart, and hold it there."
It is even more significant that the practice of contemplating the navel, known in India for thousands of years, had its adherents in Athos too, where they were long ago called "belly-watchers." Were these exercises brought back by some soldiers returning home from Alexander the Great's Indian adventure? There are some interesting differences between the Indian and the Athonite practice of this exercise, but both in the end seek the same goal. Where the Indian begins with a physical act--fixing the gaze but with the head erect--the Greek begins with a mental act--bringing the mind down into the heart. Since his attention is thus directed toward the heart, the Greek lets his head bend naturally down in the same direction, his physical movement being a secondary accompaniment. When the monk in Athos has succeeded in his first aim, he then begins working on his second one, and here makes a physical move to achieve it. He holds the breath so as to hold the mind in the heart. The Indian, too, when his navel-watching gaze is fixed, transfers his attention from body to spirit. Thus both seek and find a spiritual centralized union.
(14) More seems to be made of purification here than of meditation: the two are always coupled together, but the principal emphasis is put on the first need. This was the view of all those interviewed. It seems also to have been the view of the Russian Orthodox mystics whose sixteenth-century Nile Sorsky warned monks against doing the exercise of centering the mind in the heart and seeking the union with God before they had undergone penance and crushed passion. The Syrian mystic Isaac of Nineveh went even farther and threatened the punishment of God's anger on those who sought Him prematurely by contemplation while "still stained by reprehensible passions."
(15) The warning against rushing too fast with breathing exercises, or using them wrongly, or using them at all when one's health is unsuited to them, has been set down in some of my books. The most dangerous one of them all is that which attempts to hold the breath completely. Those warnings were derived from Indian sources and observations, as well as from Euramerican experiences. Among the Orthodox Church mystics I found further confirmation. The Russian Elder Paissy Velitchkovsky, writing about the turn of the eighteenth century, stated that a number of monks of the period had injured themselves by misusing physical aids to meditation, mostly breathing exercises.
(16) Their lives here on this promontory are so simple, so uncomplicated.
(17) In this golden light, the colours of the buildings gleamed brightly.
(18) The old structure, blackened by time, smelling of stale incense.
(19) A thin old monk in a faded grey robe appeared. He answered questions in a frail voice.
(20) A fishing boat, with orange-coloured sail, passed us.
(21) No railway lines run through Athos, no automobile traverses its length or breadth, so the monks must move about on foot, donkey, or mule. Here the eyes see a medieval world. Here is none of the noise, the complications, the pressures, and the care of modern civilization. This is good, but the comforts and conveniences, the pleasures and the luxuries are not here either. "Take what thou wilt, but pay the price." exclaimed Emerson.
(22) The precipitous face of Athos descends sheer into the water.
(23) The peninsula thrusts itself forward into the heaving sea like a pointing finger. It is there, at the more inaccessible steep tip, that most of the hermits who desire more solitude live.
(24) There is no traffic to make a person nervously take more care lest he fall beneath the wheels of the modern juggernaut's car!
(25) This forty mile long, self-governing peninsula once harboured 40,000 monks collected from the several Balkan nationalities as well as the Russian. Wars changed and reduced the population.
(26) The questions which come to our voluble intellectuals do not come to these simple monks. Their minds are untroubled by doubts, for the faith which was powerful enough to bring them and keep them there is powerful enough to disdain the intellect and discount its values.
(27) The Indian technique of mantram yoga is practised here under the name of "Jesus-prayer." Sitting in the solitude of his little room, repeating constantly the text "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me," counting the number of times upon a rosary until a specified figure is reached, the monk is doing here in a Christian monastery what the sadhu is doing there in a Hindu monastery. The invocation in both cases may be used anywhere, in any surroundings, and amid any practical activities; it is not restricted to the monastic cell. This pious duty is to be practised deliberately by effort, until one day the miracle happens and it thenceforth continues to repeat itself without his effort entirely of its own accord. This may happen within a few weeks; in other cases within a few months; in still others even longer periods may be necessary.
(28) It was the judgement of the Russian Staretz--that is, guru--Silouan that the ancient forms of monasticism were less and less suitable in view of conditions in the modern world, but that since the need and aspiration for the withdrawn existence would never vanish, more and more people among those who remained in society would practise monastic disciplines even while doing so. This, he believed, would be even more true in the case of those with some education.
(29) The steamer's engines ceased throbbing; we were at the shoreline of this enormous cliff, this "Holy Athos" as tradition called it, topped with a white pyramid.
(30) The Holy Synod which governs Athos has always tried to keep up tradition and to keep out innovation. But can it continue to do so in an age of such terrific change as ours?
(31) Too many of the monks are ignorant and superstitious, unrefined and uncultured.
(32) Those who have attained the highest grade of spirituality are total vegetarians; the others are expected to keep their meat consumption down to a minimum.
(33) These hermits look out at their little world from mountain retreats.
(34) The services in Orthodox churches have no accompaniment from musical instruments, only from chanted song.
(35) There are wide differences in character and development among these monks, just as there are in Indian ashrams. Father X, who is famous in Greece because of his numerous published articles and books, spoke fluently but fanatically. He was excitable, narrow-minded, and intolerant. But Father Ephraim made a most favourable impression on me. He was mild, kindly, gentle, and a very advanced meditator. Both men are leaders in the Athos community.
(36) Father Avakum, of Lavra Monastery, a rough untutored eccentric but unselfish monk, says: "I am all joy!" He despises intellect, saying, "I am empty save for Christ and joy!"
(37) The notorious Rasputin came to Athos and stayed for a while in the Monastery of Russiko.
(38) Whereas Catholic saints like Saint Francis Xavier and Hindu yogis like Sri Aurobindo whose dead bodies remain undecayed and uncrumbled are held in high esteem and made objects of pilgrimage, the Russian Orthodox Church has very different ideas on the matter. At their Monastery of Russiko on Athos, dead monks whose bodies are supernaturally preserved are treated as possessed by evil spirits. A stake is driven through the heart and the rite of exorcism performed.
(39) The cells have little household furniture.
(40) The devout songs and the prayer-chants, the rituals and the text readings make up the full life for many monks, the essentially pious ones. Their capacity is sufficient only for this, and their desire is satisfied by it. But others are the ascetic ones, whose presence here, and absence from the world, is caused by the repellent state of the world and by disgust with their own or others' animal lower nature.
(41) High up the cliffs were eagles' eyries.
(42) The monks said that winter is a trying time--thundering seas dash against the peninsula, screaming winds blow fiercely along it, and bitterly cold snow falls. It is then that their hard lives in ill-heated buildings are even harder.
It is unlikely that the many centuries devoted by Mount Athos to the mysteries of contemplation have not produced a wider and deeper knowledge than the simple Jesus prayer which is publicly given out as its highest wisdom. It is more than likely that its locked trunks or coffers filled with ancient scripts have occult, mystic, and metaphysical lore comparable to some of the Indian.
Athos: Here medievalism has prolonged itself into the twentieth century, but how long can it last?
The Balavarianj, a tale on the life of the Buddha, was translated into Iranian, Old Turkish, Syriac, and Arabic and gradually got changed and Christianized when it appeared in European versions as the story of Barlaam and Josephat. The Greek text has been wrongly attributed to another man, but it is in fact the work of a Georgian, Euthymius, resident of Mount Athos, who lived in the tenth and eleventh centuries. His interpolations of Christian theology in what was originally a Buddhist biography are brilliant.
Mount Athos: The monks' own legendary history speaks of anchorites living on this peninsula since many centuries ago. The practice of meditation is included with the lengthy prayers, rituals, and services in their daily and nightly programs.
The night vigil services at the Mount Athos monasteries may go on continuously for several hours, and there may be no fewer than one every week. The young novices find attendance at them very tiring and physically uncomfortable and also complain that the ordinary daily liturgical services are too long. In the Orthodox services the congregation has to stand on its feet throughout the period. The resultant exhaustion (and other ascetic living conditions) causes a high percentage of novices to find monastic life on Athos too severe, so they abandon it after a trial.
At the beginning of this century there were ten thousand monks on Mount Athos. At the beginning of World War II there were five thousand. At the time I write this note (1952) there are not even two thousand!
Pythagoras in Greece, Lao Tzu in China, and Buddha in India not only lived at about the same period but also taught essentially the same doctrine. Yet to the materialistic critic, unable to sense the spirit within their words because lacking in the mystic experience which produced those words, their doctrines would seem to be greatly at variance.
Beyond quarrelling sects and disputing creeds, beyond the divisions among men who would narrow the Infinite to a possession of their own religion, let the clearer-sighted and calmer souls honour those Greeks who erected an altar "To the Unknown God." For beyond matter and energy, beyond all universes, there is an unseen unnamed Power from which they are derived--this is now the knowledge of a few pioneer scientists who have gone farthest in atomic research, of physicists like Heisenberg who were forced to become philosophers.
Western philosophy was born in Greece. It was not, like its Indian contemporary, chiefly concerned with God but with Man--the course of his life and the nature of his surrounding world.
The Pythagorean maxim "Do not walk in the public streets" had an inner significance which meant "Shun the views of the unenlightened masses." "Do not eat the heart of an animal" meant "Do not give way to the emotions of despondency and anxiety." The interdiction against beans should not be taken literally, but only symbolically.
The real teaching of Pythagoras during his lifetime to his personal disciples, as compared with the recorded teaching made by later generations of followers who had lost much of the inner significance of his wisdom, cannot be got by taking those records too literally. The records contradict each other in many particulars. Consider how most of Pythagoras' biographers say that he forbade the use of woolen bedclothes and enjoined the use of linen ones only. On the other hand, Diogenes Laertes says in his biography that linen had not yet been introduced into the country where Pythagoras lived and that his bedclothes were always woolen! Aristoxenes said that Pythagoras permitted the eating of all animals except oxen, rams, and lambs--whereas the biography preserved by Photius says that he taught the abstention from all animals because of his belief in the transmigration of souls. Even the absurd story that Pythagoras refused to save his life from his assailants by making his escape across a bean field is only one of several conflicting stories about the manner of his death, and none of the other stories mentions this bean field at all. Such contradictions should make us very wary of accepting the assertion that he really forbade beans as an article of diet. What, then, is the real meaning of the injunction to abstain from eating beans, for which, incidentally, the only authority I can trace is Hierocles' inclusion of it in his collection of the Golden Manimo? It is an entirely symbolic injunction, and it means "Abstain from following the broad popular path." Beans were used in the democratic election procedures as a convenient means of casting votes for candidates, and in the course of time came to symbolize the democratic or popular way of life which was so abhorrent to the aristocratic character and secretive nature of Pythagoras and his teachings.
Concerning the interdiction of cremation, it should be remembered that Pythagoras got most of his training in the Egyptian schools, where the practice of mummifying the dead was the rule and where cremation was abhorred.
The story that Pythagoras was murdered because he refused to pass through a bean field (which was his only way of escape) owing to his aversion to beans is as untrue as so many other legends of antiquity. When there was trouble at Crotona and his work there became impossible, he simply removed in 515 to Metapontum, the capital city of a small state, and continued there until he died peacefully. His ban on beans in the diet of his followers applied to the large "fava" bean, as it is called in Italy where he then lived, or the "horse bean," as it is now called in some other European countries. This definitely contains a poisonous element, and I remember two cases of food poisoning in villagers who had eaten too largely of them during my sojourn in Greece.
Plotinus, when younger, heard of the yoga systems and wanted to travel to India to investigate them. He was unable to do so and, when older, was unimpelled to do so any longer. He criticized one of the principal claims of hatha yoga as well as of mantra yoga when he asked sceptically how "specially directed breathings and certain sounds, to which is ascribed magic potency upon the Supreme, could act upon the unembodied Spirit." What he himself taught was very close to gnana yoga, although it originated with the Neoplatonic doctrine of Ammonius in Alexandria.
The Orphic Mysteries were found in Greece and its colonies, in Macedonia, Thrace, Asia Minor, and southern Italy. Their revelations concerned the mystery of Deity, the nature of the soul, and its relationship with the body. For humanitarian, hygienic, and purificatory reasons a meatless diet was prescribed.
Alexander the Great: (a) "A man must be master of himself if he is to be master of others." (b) "The rebellion of the body, sweet at the moment, only leads to trouble." (c) "The beauty of woman must yield place to the beauty of virtue." (d) Plutarch has brought out that self-conquest, subjection of body to resolve and reason, was Alexander's ideal. (e) Aristotle, one of Alexander's tutors, published the statement that Alexander the Great learned "esoteric doctrines."
The Orphic Mysteries were brought to, and celebrated on, the Rhodopean peaks of southeast Europe.
The old Greek Mysteries celebrated in religious rites or in occult demonstrations the spiritual essence of man.
The Seven Wise Men of ancient Greece once visited the sacred oracle at Delphi and left two offerings in the temple. Both were maxims and were subsequently carved on the building. The first is famous: "Know Thyself." The second is: "Nothing too much." The first points to the peaks of human experience. The second warns us against the dangers of the quest (as well as of life) and how to avoid them by keeping our efforts in balance.
Our educationists used to praise Rome for its architectural grandeurs and its poetical classics. But did not the Roman Empire learn both arts from the Greeks? Were they not brigands who took Greece by force as they took so many other lands of Europe? There was no moral greatness about the Roman leaders, but there was some among Greek leaders such as Solon and among several Greek philosophers like Plato. Even Roman culture at its best never touched the heights touched by Asiatic culture and certainly trailed far behind it ethically and morally.
There was a sanity, a wholeness, about the goal of the best Greeks which we do not find easily elsewhere in the antique or Oriental world. They appreciated art created by man, beauty created by Nature, and reason applied by man. They developed the body's health, strength, shapely form; they disciplined it at certain periods for special purposes, but without falling into the fanaticism and extremism of those ascetic religions which abjure enjoyment merely because it is enjoyment.
The word "philosophy" has no precise synonym in any Indian language: it is a Greek word. The implications here are quite interesting.
The ancient Hellenic mind was sharpened by the study of mathematics. This enabled it to search for truth unclogged by superstition and unswayed by imagination. It helped too by nurturing the power of concentration. But it was still inferior to the far more valuable capacity of the Indian mind to still thought altogether.
I sat on a fragment of rock at Delphi, gazing at the few remaining pillars of the ruined temple. So many centuries had come and gone yet I could not help feeling reverence. There was still a kind of sanctity in this lonely-looking place, heavily mingled however with eeriness and ghostliness. Perhaps the extremely clear moonlight suffusing the whole place helped to create the uncanny atmosphere. The occultness of Delphi is best appreciated at such a time. Only then does its almost-but-not-quite eerie, lonely, half-gloomy grandeur show in all fullness. But the priests who chose and consecrated Delphi to the Oracle, when they had all Greece at their disposal, must have known what they were about. The temple was only a little one physically: its design was of the simplest; yet it was the principal centre of Greek Mysteries.
The Orphic cult was not a public one but a "Mystery for secret participation." It was active nearly three thousand years ago in Greece, earlier even than Buddhism in India. "Thou hast become a god!" announces the tombstone of more than one of its votaries. It preached salvation through divinization by a higher purer life.
So-called pagan philosophers, like the Stoics, did not evade the discussion of any problem in their doctrine. What they could not solve by reason they accepted by resignation, believing that the universal mind had enough wisdom and sense to know what it is doing.
Greek questioning, sceptical doubting, and analysing thought coupled itself first with Hebrew reverential worship, then with Christian transcendental hopefulness, finally with Islamic fervour in its journeys to Asia Minor, onward to Alexandria, North Africa, and Spain.
Greek Stoicism, Chinese Taoism, and Hindu Yoga had certain common features and common conceptions even though differences were also there.
The union of Greek philosophy with Christian theology, which Justin Martyr started and Clement of Alexandria developed, was beneficial to Christian religion.
We may not ignore the fact that if the Greeks had their interest in culture, in art, and philosophy, they had also their militarism with many a war, and their slave-holding form of society.
For all their talk of and homage to wisdom, Athens made grave errors and, in certain ways, behaved badly. This is why she had to suffer, and, in the end, suffer tragically.
It is to the credit of Aristotle that his sense of balance demanded what the Asiatic ascetics seem reluctant to give--the fulfilment of certain physical conditions, the existence of certain external circumstances, along with the inner and moral ones--as necessary to happiness.
Pythagoras studied in Egypt, in India, and even, legend says, in China.
Plato uses the term "idea" in a universal and technical sense; hence his are "archetypal" ideas. They remain always the same, but the particular expressions of the ideas may vary or may be modifications of the general ones.
Amid the majestic ruins which lie here and there in present-day Greece, there stands a vast roofless structure of tumbled walls and broken columns. They are all that there is left of the four-thousand-year-old historic sight where once the festivals of the Eleusinian mysteries were celebrated in pomp and reverence under the aegis of Athens.
I sat on the silent half-deserted Acropolis, looking beyond it in the direction of the blue Aegean waters, and thought of those great minds who once starred the Hellenic heaven. I thought of Pythagoras, who travelled to learn, and then settled to teach, the spiritual secrets of Persia, Egypt, India. I thought of Callicrates, the architect of the pillared Parthenon. I thought of Socrates, the truth-seeking questioner; of Plato, the sage, who built a Republic based on wisdom in his mind; of Hippocrates, observant, shrewd teacher of physicians; of Phidias, sculptor of the golden statue of Zeus at Olympia; of Solon, who gave Greece some of its finest law reforms and economic improvements; of Herodotus, most honest and interesting of historians. I thought of others, too, who came later with the coming of Christianity, of mystics, saints, and theologians, brilliant in their time.
There are some points in the Stoic system which are simply not true, however much the Stoics dressed them up in grand, almost arrogant language, perhaps the better to convince themselves. But the general loftiness of ethic, excellence of purpose, and peacefulness of mind which Stoicism contributed are, of course, most admirable.
How much of the sharp, bright clarity of the Mediterranean region contributed to the creation of Greek thought at its best?
The Greeks of today quarrel fiercely over politics. How far are they from Plato's pictured ideal types, as the Indians of today are far from Shankaracharya's pictured sages!
The temples of the Greek cult of Aesculapius used the method of "Incubation" both to heal the sick and to reveal truths to the seekers. The patients were placed in underground sleeping chambers.
There is a beauty in the plain Doric column of early Greek architecture which, for all its simplicity, the more elaborated styles and the highly decorated Hindu styles failed to attain.
The plenitude of the Greek ideal is more attractive than the harshness and emptiness of many Oriental goals.
"While we live, let us live!" said the ancient Greeks.
That the Mystery Hall of the Initiates at Eleusis had something to give at one time is testified by the names of those who were permitted to participate in its rites, names like Sophocles, Cicero, and Plato. Now a ruined remnant, it has nothing to give but memories from history books long since read, or scenes conjured up by imagination.
Pantaenus, called "the Sicilian bee," was the reputed founder of the Catechetical School of Alexandria. He was Clement of Alexandria's last teacher.
The thought of pre-Christian Greece reached the distant island of Ireland, penetrating and influencing the mind of ninth-century thinker John Scotus.
Byzantine architecture combines Orient and Occident in a single style.
The taste for beautiful things, homes, architecture, and literature came to us with our Greek heritage.
So utterly detached, aloof, and impersonal is their style that a reader of these ancient verses could wonder whether they were written by a gifted human being or by a god residing on Olympus.
Unlike the Indians, the Greeks were not preoccupied with the search for God. It was enough for them to know themselves and to beautify their surroundings. But precisely like the Indians, they believed the world beyond their own country was inhabited by "barbarians." This was not merely spiritual arrogance alone. There was the firm, and in both cases justly held, conviction that they possessed something really precious in their cultural inheritance. The tremendous truthfulness and the beautifully balanced sanity of the Greek mind stand out protectively against fanaticism and hysteria, occultism and demonism.
The Pythagoreans believed that the human race is not naturally adapted, without some guidance, to salvation, observed Iamblichus. They were right.
He whom the old Greeks called "mystagogue" was the guide who brought the candidate to the classical secret spiritual drama-Mysteries, interpreted them for him, and explained as a teaching the doctrines associated with them.
Rome was still an infant civilization when Greece already had its seven sages of the sixth century.
Pythagoras travelled widely in his quest of wisdom because in his time journeying from one place to another to visit reputed teachers was deemed the best way to acquire knowledge.
Although the Greeks brought their gods into their thought, they did not desert their humanism. In this there lay some contrast with the Indians.
Greek thought accepted the fact that sufferings were inevitable in life but noted the joys too.
Notes on Greece:
(1) There, on the summit of the Acropolis, its rock hill home, covered in the purple dawn light, perched the massive Doric-columned Parthenon. Once it was a temple where man as pagan, then as Christian, then as Muhammedan worshipped God. But now as tourist he stares and gapes at its empty shell. It stands broken and roofless, the crimson and blue colours of the elaborate interior decorations gone, the exquisitely carved statues taken away, the gildings removed. The marble floor, trodden by Phidias and Pericles, is bare and worn.
(2) Grey, honey-yielding Mount Hymettus stands between me and the sea. For some hours daily I see this hill whenever I lift my head from the meditation in which it is sunk, or from the white papers scattered on the desk, or go out on the verandah to feed the impatient swallows who have been circling above it in their joyous freedom. Daily at two o'clock the guns on Lycabettus fire their time signal.
(3) A Meditation on Mount Parnassus: I sat on the mountain's southern slope, looking down on the narrow ravine, and thought of those who travelled from afar and near, of the pilgrims who came here to question the far-famed Oracle at Delphi, came out of their anxieties and fears, their uncertainties and perplexities. (Complete this section by paras on precognition, prophecy, karma, rebirth, fortunetelling, fate, clairvoyance.) Why was Delphi called by the ancients "the navel of the earth," meaning its centre, where Apollo's immense temple once stood? Why did they believe that the god of the dead hid here, among the lonely volcanic rocks?
(4) It was the Hill of Pnyx, just west of the Acropolis, where the great speakers of ancient Greece delivered their celebrated orations, and where Demosthenes defended democracy. Day after day, and in the presence of the Greek King and Queen, for five days a cosmopolitan crowd gathers in the wide open space on the hill to listen to invited speakers, each a leader in his field, from different parts of the world, on some higher aspect of culture and civilization, science and philosophy, to feed the higher nature of man. German, Indian, Greek, Swede, Frenchman, American, and Italian speak on successive days. The wisdom of Asia, carried down from its ancient past, is here carried to Europe and mingled with our own thought. I hear with especial interest considering the place and its symbolism, the name of Ramana Maharshi uttered by a bespectacled and benign Hindu professor. I hear the name of Socrates mentioned by an Italian one, and ruminate that both have given us the same counsel, in almost identical words: "Man, know thyself!" The addresses are timed for early evening, so that the last sentences are heard with the last rays of the sun. As the sky's light darkens, a hush falls over the meeting, helped by the little groves of trees on two sides which screen off some of the city's distant hum, and is broken only by the lecturer's voice.
(5) The quality of curiosity prominent in the Greek temperament developed on a higher level into the search after scientific knowledge and on a still higher level into the search after metaphysical truth.
(6) After the Persian Wars, Greek traders took part in the long winding caravans which crossed central Asia as far as northern India or embarked on ships which sailed from Egypt to northwestern India. Now and then a scholar or philosopher might join them, mostly to learn but sometimes to teach. There are several evidences of Indian contacts with Egypt immediately before and after the Christian era began. If Chinese silk was freely sold during the first century a.d. in the markets of Egypt, Greece, and Rome, the contacts of Greece and Egypt with India, situated at a shorter distance by sea as she was, were likely to be more numerous.
Pythagoras made a somewhat exaggerated fetish of esotericism and went to great lengths to keep his teachings unknown to the multitude. Consequently most of them were not written down until many years after his death, when so many of his disciples had been so dispersed or had died that to avoid the total disappearance of his philosophy some of them recorded it for the first time. These writings in the course of a few generations came easily to be misunderstood. Even Porphyry, who lived so long ago as the third century, and so near to Pythagoras, wrote, "This primary philosophy of the Pythagoreans finally died out first because it was enigmatical, and then because their commentaries were written in Doric, which dialect itself is somewhat obscure so that Doric teachings were not fully understood, and they became misapprehended and later they who published them no longer were Pythagoreans. . . . When the Pythagoreans died, with them died their knowledge which till then they had kept secret except for a few obscure things which were commonly repeated by those who did not understand them. Pythagoras himself left no book but some little sparks of his philosophy, obscure and difficult, were preserved by the few who were scattered."
The lesser Mysteries included states of meditation, obtained with the help of competent priests, into which qualified persons were initiated.
Greek culture set up the ideal of Temperance, the Golden Mean, and of Harmony, the balancing of different factors. Greek art set up the goal of symmetry and proportion, the beauty of form. Greek way of life sought a sound mind in a sound body.
Whereas Cyril Connolly found Delphi holy, I found it eerie, psychic, and, despite the strictly limited sunlight, melancholy.
That is a beautiful word, the Greek word phrenos, standing for the heart in the spiritual sense.
The Roman Stoic was more concerned with strengthening himself with the armour of virtuous self-control and ascetic self-mastery than with the conscious union with his Overself. His work was a limited one.
Greek civilization is remembered for its flowering of human intelligence against a background of exquisitely beautiful creations.
Athene, Greek goddess of wisdom, carried an owl. But the suggestion that owls are wise birds is an erroneous one. In some of their practical behaviour they are is even foolish. The real implication is first, that Athene's kind of wisdom is the diviner one, and second, that owls can see in the night hence what is darkness to human beings is light to them.
Why is it that of all the worthwhile philosophers of pre-Christian times who wrote in Greek, the work of Plato alone has survived in full?
Whatever the sharp questions and keen logic of Socrates may have led some of his hearers to believe about him, he strongly affirmed the godlike in man's nature.
Rome mastered Greece physically. In the sequence a modicum of Greek art and civilization was absorbed by the Romans, although they were too insensitive to absorb what was finest and highest in Greek culture.
We talk of the religions of India, with their emphasis upon the element of suffering in life, as being unduly pessimistic. But what could be more pessimistic than the later and final acts of Greek drama?
Socrates' prayer to the god of Nature: "O Pan! Do so that I become beautiful inside me. And all that exists outside and around me to be in harmony with what I have in me. . . . My wish for material wealth is only for so much as a wise man can carry in his hand."--from Plato
Christianity and the East
To claim, as Schweitzer, Steiner, and Martinus claim, that the pre-Christian Asiatic spiritual teaching was inferior to the Christian because it lacked the message of love, is just not correct. This claim could never have been made had these three men spent some time in Asia itself, studying the classic texts and under the scholarly pundits. It most probably was based on Jesus' statement: "A new commandment give I to you, that ye love one another, as I have loved you." The Israelites, to whom these words were addressed, were governed by the loveless code of "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." What Jesus taught was certainly new to them, but not to Asia. Buddha and Krishna, Lao Tzu and Confucius had taught it long before.
Since the Eastern Orthodox Church is the earliest formed, the oldest historically, of all Christian groups, it is not surprising that some basic truths, neglected or lightly weighed by the other groups, are still here to be found, particularly the mysticism of the early Greek Fathers.
Unlike the Western divisions of Christianity into Protestant and Catholic, the Eastern Church has not troubled itself with propaganda or engaged in proselytism.
The earlier Fathers of the Church who wrote in Greek were more knowledgeable in mystic doctrine and practice than those who came later and wrote in Latin. The European religious and theologic mysticism of the Middle Ages owes more to the Greek Orthodox Fathers than to any others.
A standard painted icon of the Greek Orthodox Church depicts Jesus preaching and blessing the people by using the finger of his right hand to form a circle. He uses the third finger (not the little one) to touch the thumb in order to form this circle. An Indian professor whom I took to visit a Greek monastery pointed to this icon and said that exactly the same hand pose is to be found in Hinduism. These poses are called mudras.
Professor T.M.P. Mahadevan, head of the Department of Philosophy at Madras University, recognized instantly and delightedly the symbol painted on several Greek icons when I took him into the church belonging to an Orthodox monastery in Athens. It was, he exclaimed, "the gnana mudra," the gesture made by touching the tip of the forefinger with the thumb to form a circle. The inner meaning is that the ego (forefinger) is a continuation, a connection, or a unity with the Overself (the thumb). Only in appearance is it otherwise.
That the Mystery Hall of the Initiates at Eleusis had something to give at one time is testified by the names of those who were permitted to participate in its rites, names like Sophocles, Cicero, and Plato. Now a ruined remnant, it has nothing to give but memories from history books long since read, or scenes conjured up by imagination.
Byzantine art is so largely a sacred one because the Orthodox Church claimed that effigies and portraits of Jesus Christ and His saints held a spark of divine energy and that to meditate on them was spiritually helpful.
These icons are highly revered, are believed to be permeated with magical power, or else with psychic forces which can cure bodily sickness or even take possession of one's mind.
The icons are sacred objects used in the decoration of churches, presenting on panels of painted wood portraits of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, prophets, apostles, or saints.
The gold background, which so many Byzantine artists gave to their frescoes and icons and mosaic pictures, combines with the sacred subject to convey a feeling of sublimity to the beholder. When the subject is a portrayed figure--Jesus, an apostle, a saint--then this golden surrounding fittingly signifies his aura or nimbus.
The heavy dark colouring of icons and the sombre visages of their subjects are relieved by the background being burnished with radiant gold.
When Pantaenus of Alexandria visited India in the second century, he discovered there that he had been preceded by Bartholomew, who had left behind a gospel in Hebrew. Both are now included in the list of Saints, with Bartholomew as an apostle also.
Before Christianity appeared in Rome it was already existent in India.
At least in two parts of India there were Christians in the pre-Cosmasian (ante circa 535 a.d.) centuries of the Christian era.) In northwest India--rather in Afghanistan and Baluchistan and the neighbouring regions included in the kingdoms of Gondophares and "Mazdai" of the first half of the first century a.d., where according to the Acts of Thomas (apocryphae) of about 200 a.d. Saint Thomas preached and was killed and buried--there were Christian bishoprics in 420, 424, 484, and 497 a.d. This is evidenced by specific mention in ancient Syrian documents brought to light at my instance by the late Dr. Muigana of John Rylands Library, Manchester. Christianity must have died out in that region sometime after 497 a.d.
Here too in the southwest of India (as well as in Ceylon) and perhaps also in the east coast of India--in Mylapore near Madras, for instance--there were vast congregations of Christians under Persian bishops in about 535 a.d. as attested by Cosmas Indikoplenstes in his Topographia Christiana. Their descendants still survive in Travancore and Cochin as Saint Thomas Syrian Christians among other Christians of later, Portuguese days, but have died out in Ceylon and the east coast--the present-day Christians of these two areas (Ceylon and the east coast) being of much later origin in the Portuguese period of South Indian and Ceylonese history (since 1498 a.d.).
The tradition of Travancore and Cochin is that Saint Thomas the Apostle came here, was martyred, and lies buried in Mylapore Cathedral (Madras). So he must have died in two places, one the northwest of India as The Acts say, and the other Mylapore as our tradition says.
There are also several ancient Christian churches in Cranganore, of which the one at Kottapuram (southern extremity of the taluk) is perhaps the best known. Saint Thomas, the Apostle, is said to have landed at the site of this church about two thousand years ago. This is said to be one of the churches founded by the Apostle.
Eastern Orthodox Church monasteries do not encourage intellectual work and scholarship. Instead they encourage only attendance at religious services, night vigils, and above all the practice of meditation.
The Greek-writing Early Church Fathers' teaching is nearer to the Hindu tradition than any other Christian thought, but still remains far off from it.
Most of the medieval European inner-life texts written by contemplatives in Europe were influenced or inspired by the writings of the Greek Fathers.
It is significant that early Christianity was preached more in spoken and written Greek than Hebrew.
The principal members of the Oriental Church are Greek, Armenian, Syrian, Nestorian, Russian, and Bulgarian.
"Look Within!" was not less the teaching of Jesus ("The Kingdom of heaven is within you") than it was the injunction of most Oriental sages to their own hearers.
The grave warm beauty of Jesus' words contrasts vividly with the cold impersonal quality of Buddha's.
Even from the historical standpoint, Christianity is nearer to our own times and needs and therefore better suited to us of the West.
Billy Graham said that an audience's interest in his sermons rises whenever he takes up the theme of Christ's power to transform personality and wanes when he moves away from it. Substitute the name "Zen" for that of "Christ" and much of the former's popularity is explained.
Saint Basil, a wise theologian and practising mystic of the Eastern Church, said: "(To) fulfil the precept to deny oneself means complete forgetfulness of the past."
Saint Paul's advice to the Philippians is good today for all Occidentals: "Work out your own salvation."