Our main premise is that many of the insights at the beginning of Western culture arose from deep transcendental experiences that were not the result of mere speculation or limited to inductive and deductive reasoning and imagination as orthodox circles would have us believe. The practice of “stillness” or “transcendence” was much more important to the founding of our western philosophy and civilization than has been given credit by traditional academia.
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” ~ Albert Einstein
In other words, the rational mind can be a good servant but can be a despotic master; just look around for evidence to that effect with all the violence in the world and our obsession to achieve technical perfection to that end. * According to classical scholar Peter Kingsley, logic was supposed to be a gift to take us back to our “source,” instead we are drowning in a torrent of information, more clever perhaps, but none the wiser. We have become astute technicians but have lost the raison d’être of it all. If we are to really appreciate and understand the insights and wisdom of the founders of our western civilization then we most evoke new ways of “seeing,” different state(s) of consciousness,* otherwise philosophy becomes nothing more than a mental exercise with little or no practical application. This is what has become of western philosophy.
”Thus wisdom, the object if all true philosophy, considered as exploring the causes and principles of things, flourished in high perfection among the Egyptians first, and afterwards in Greece. Polite literature was the pursuit of the Romans; and experimental enquiries increased without end, accumulated without order, and are the employment of modern philosophy. Hence, we may conclude that the age of true philosophy is no more. ~Thomas Taylor
We ask only that you are open to the possibility that knowledge can be transformational and the proposition that “knowledge is different in different states of consciousness.” ** A simple example from one’s own experience will reveal this fact: our knowledge, or ability to know a given object, will differ in the waking, dreaming and deep sleep states.
First let us try to trace the misty origins of western philosophy which is even hinted at by such traditional historians of western civilization as Will Durant:
“The hoary wisdom of Egyptian priests and Persian Magi, perhaps even of Hindu seers, the sacerdotal science of the Chaldeans, the poetically personified cosmogony of Hesiod, were mingled with the natural realism of Phoenician and Greek merchants to produce Ionian philosophy.” (The Life of Greece, p.135)
But there is good reason to believe that there was a more profound connection with a universal knowledge and wisdom that may have been worldwide in some remote past.
“Indications of a Vedic influence in the Zend-Avesta in Persia are found earlier than 1,600 and a Vedic influence was in Greece as early as 1,400 B.C. But there is much evidence of a link between early Greeks and the more ancient Vedic civilization of India, suggesting that Vedic culture flowed west to Persia and Europe.”
“The early history of western Europe, including the glory of ancient Greece, are sparks, brilliant though they may be, from the great fire of knowledge of Vedic India.” Origins of Vedic Civilization, by Kenneth Chandler, Ph.D.
One such group that seems to have been a descendant of this Vedic knowledge was known as the Orphics, followers of the mythical hero known as Orpheus who was thought to have come from Thrace (northern ancient Greece). The Orphics were worshipers of Dionysus whose name in Sanskrit, the ancient language of Vedic civilization, translates to Deva nashu or the “divine restorer.” Megasthenes, a Greek who lived in India in the fourth century B.C. identifies Dionysus with Shiva, an Indian deity.
“The parallels between the names and legends of Shiva, Osiris and Dionysus are so numerous that there can be little doubt as to their original sameness.” Gods of Love & Ecstasy: The Traditions of Shiva & Dionysus, by Alain Danielou
Note: There existed another interesting parallel and that was the Seven Sages of Greece & the Seven Rishis of India
The Orphic tradition was the “stream of knowledge” that gave rise to the eminent philosopher Pythagoras and the Pythagorean school of thought.
Pythagoras (500 BCE) coined the term philosopher as “a lover of wisdom.” He said, with all humility, that a person like himself should not see himself as wise, but as an aspirant after Wisdom (the goddess Sophia).
Pythagoras was considered one of the main founders of Western philosophy. He was man of comprehensive knowledge – astronomy, music, mathematics, and other disciplines. His name was descriptive of his self-considered status: Pythia-goras, “the mouthpiece of Apollo.”
Ostensibly, Western philosophy’s beginnings start with the all-encompassing question of whether reality is made up of one substance or many substances. Is reality essentially one or many? Another important subject for the ancient Greek mind was the nature of Absolute Goodness & Beauty.
Various replies, or “reasonings,” ensue from the basic ontological question as to the nature of existence. Some of the propositions say that reality is made up of one substance, such as mind, or one of the elements, such as fire or water. Should some of these answers be construed literally or metaphorically when speaking of the various elements? Remember this was the age of poetry and metaphor.
The “many,” or atomic, viewpoint holds that reality is made up of many indestructible substances, or atoms, at least this is the view we have inherited from Democritus onwards.
Aristotle made an arrogant assessment that the philosophical viewpoints of the early pre-Socratic philosophers were but naïve stammerings and incomplete attempts to philosophize about reality.
The surviving literature of the early pre-Socratic philosophers is fragmentary, but their voice was a poetic one and oftentimes enigmatic in expression – sometimes terse, sometimes fluid and suggestive, dancing in and around the subject at hand.
“The contradiction so puzzling to the ordinary way of thinking comes from the fact that we have to use language to communicate our inner experience which by its very nature transcends linguistics”
The key to understanding the pre-Socratic philosophers and getting beyond the “Aristotelian prejudice” which we inherited is to see them in a different light altogether – not as pre-rationalists as such, but as Seers into the very heart of reality.
“Really there can only be one kind of knowledge. And rationality is simply mysticism misunderstood.” Peter Kingsley
(Read Peter Kingsley’s Reality for a more detailed discussion of the roots of rationalism and its subsequent perversion from its original purpose. Briefly, as originally characterized by Parmenides, who is considered the Western “father of logic,” logic was a considered a “divine gift” as a way to lead mankind back to the truth of their origins. Instead, it has become a game of mental chess; as a means to become a thinker about thinking or of things which seems to lead us further away from truth, just as the goddess in Parmenides poem predicts.
To use the ancient distinction of higher and lower knowledge, we are enthralled with a lower form of knowledge that deals with sensory data or variance (“apara vidya” which translates to relative knowledge), whereas a higher knowledge (“para vidya” which translates to transcendental knowledge) deals with an unvarying reality, one of an Absolute nature (Plato’s Supersensible Forms are an example). The operative word here is that we need to transcend our normal way of seeing & thinking.
Many of the early pre-Socratic philosophers were initiates of the mystery religions – men of “hidden powers,” shamans, and priests of the temples. This fact has been all too coolly dismissed as being irrelevant by academia and scholars at large. But the fact remains that the pronouncements of those philosophers as to the nature of reality were inextricably tied to their experiences, which – judging from the revelations of modern physics and cosmology – were profound indeed.
“The supreme task of the physicist is to arrive at those universal elementary laws from which the cosmos can be built up by pure deduction. There is no logical path to these laws; only intuition…” —Albert Einstein
But the obvious and ignored question, at least from where I am standing, is how can we access a deep intuition? This has been overlooked entirely and has been swept under the academic rug. The child (rationality) thinks it knows more than the father (pure consciousness). One could liken these pre-socratic philosophers as “pioneers of consciousness” inasmuch as their knowledge and vision extended beyond the quotidian consciousness of things.
“Consciousness is the common denominator underlying the possibility of any philosophy, world view, religious attitude, art, or science. I, therefore, affirm the systematic primacy of consciousness as such. —Franklin Merrell-Wolff (philosopher/mathematician)
In other words, consciousness as such, is the source and precursor to any rationality or worldview. Given this fact, the knowledge contained in the mystery religions and initiation into the “mysteries” should not be taken lightly. As their own traditions maintained, they were the guardians of a perennial wisdom from a remote past to bind men and women back to their source and provided the keys to accessing different states of consciousness or the ability to raise one’s awareness of “the way of things.”
“Sooner or later nuclear physics & the psychology of the unconscious will draw closely together as both of them, independently from one another & from opposite directions, push forward into transcendental territory. If research could only advance far enough, therefore, we would arrive at an ultimate agreement between physical and psychological concepts.” —Carl Gustav Jung
What modern science is finding at the most basic levels of high-energy physics is paradoxical in nature, as such, and seems to be “echoes” of ancient insights. Why? Could it be as Jung foresaw – a convergence of human knowledge of the Self with the most advanced physics would be on a common “transcendental ground,” which we will call the Unified Field – a unified field of both consciousness and matter as there is only one all encompassing field of Being.
“The subatomic particles are destructible and indestructible at the same time.” —The Tao of Physics, Fritjof Capra
“The reality of the atomic physicist, like the reality of the eastern mystics, transcends the narrow framework of opposite concepts.” —The Tao of Physics, Fritjof Capra
Thus you have pronouncements that are paradoxical, such as:
• “The way up and the way down is one and the same.”
• “God is day night, winter summer, war peace, satiety hunger.”
• “Birth is the death of immortals, death the birth of mortals.”
What the pre-Socratic philosophers really discovered was that change is an interplay of opposites, and all opposites are polar and are thus united. But most importantly they intuited the fundamentals of our world from their unique perspective. Theirs was a legacy of universal wisdom and of major import as they laid the groundwork for the Western mentality. The question then arises: How could they have had such profound insights with just the instrument of mind? (Hint: they were able to plunge into the very depths of their souls).
**Different states of consciousness have different physiological parameters, that is, waking, dreaming and sleeping are distinct in their physiological or mind/body functioning.