The Legend of Prince Siddhartha: Buddhist Philosophy Part I

Running parallel to the maturation and evolution of Hellenic philosophy, to the East the Indo-Aryan people were going through a similar intellectual revolution from the prevalence of ritual and ceremonial worship of gods and goddesses embedded in their mythologically steeped traditions as preserved in their Hindu (Vedic) scripture, to a more speculative and metaphysical mode of inquiry into the nature of reality and existence and its relationship to change, impermanence, and the immortality of the Soul, or Self (Atman) as it was referred to in the Vedas.

The aim of this inquiry, again just as it was in the West in the Hellenic philosophical tradition which was emerging at contemporaneously, was to explain not only the nature of reality, being, or “existence”, but also mankind’s place in as well as expound upon the goal of life, i.e. happiness, enlightenment, nirvana, liberation, moksha, eudaemonia or whatever other term the specific theo-philosophical tradition chose to denote this idea.  Unique to the Indo-Aryan philosophical tradition, which was also shared by Buddhism its close cousin, was that there existed a path to the ultimate liberation of the human Soul, by means of which death itself could be overcome.  This belief system was not just steeped in the notion of “realization”, or absolute knowledge (vidya), that which was spoken of by the great sages or seers of old, i.e. the Rishis, but also was characterized and underpinned by a system of metaphysics within which the nature of the Soul could be understood, and through which the means by which the Soul could be ultimately liberated rested upon.  This fundamentally intellectual development was driven not only by the analysis, commentary and interpretation of the more esoteric and philosophical aspects of the Vedas, or more specifically the Upanishads, but also by the teachings of Siddartha Gautama, the historical figure who is the founder of Buddhism.

Buddhism takes root in the Indian subcontinent toward the end of the 5th century BCE or so, originating in the northeast border between modern India and Nepal where Siddhartha Gautama was born (and where he presumably taught as well) at around the same time that the first of the Upanishads were compiled.  In modern academic literature, Buddhism is typically considered to be part of a broader philosophical movement that arose as an alternative to Vedic religion in the first half of the first millennium BCE in the Indian subcontinent called Śramaṇa.  This movement included Jainism, as well as other heterodox – i.e. not adhering to the Vedas as authoritative scripture – theo-philosophical schools of thought.[1]

The rise and influence of Buddhism then must be seen within the context of a broader intellectual movement that arose on the outskirts of the ancient Indo-Aryan civilization which reflected a basic and fundamental dissatisfaction with Vedic philosophy, culture and tradition as a means to liberation.  It represented almost a rebellion of sorts to the orthodox theological and religious dogma that was prevalent at the time which was encased within a very structured and elitist socio-political structure, i.e. Varna, which closely guarded theological study and knowledge by a specific class of society, i.e. the Brahmins, and which held that moksha, or immortality, was to be practiced only by the well trained and select few. Siddhartha, after much trials and tribulation, and after following many different paths and teachings, concluded that the prevailing orthodox Vedic philosophical system as a means to liberation or happiness was fundamentally flawed and after his Awakening, came up with an alternative philosophy (and underlying metaphysics) which became the basis of Buddhism in all its different variants today.

The popularity and spread of Buddhism in the Indian subcontinent in the last half of the first millennium BCE, which spread all the way into the Far East and regions of Chinese cultural influence in the first few centuries of the Common Era and beyond, along with the establishment of Vedic philosophy as represented in the Upanishadic literature, is in many respects directly analogous theo-philosophical development in the Hellenic world which arose out of the prevailing mythological and theological based religious traditions from which our modern (Western) notion of “philosophy” itself was conceived.  It can also be understood as analogous to the Christian revolution in the first few centuries of the Common Era as Jesus of Nazareth rejected the fundamental teachings of Judaism and proclaimed his new philosophy, i.e. the Gospel, for which he was ultimately crucified.  The teachings of Jesus, who later became known as Christ or Logos personified, as interpreted and compiled by his followers who founded Christianity as we know it today, not only rejected the religion of the Hebrews (of which Jesus was of course a member), but also the so-called “pagan” religions that were prevalent in the Mediterranean at the time, proclaiming that not only was there one true God as the Hebrews had done before him, but that this God was accessible to, and was in fact indistinguishable from, the very inmost essence of all mankind.

But Christianity as well, in its formation in the after the death of Jesus and as the Church and its associated religious dogma became codified and canonized into the Bible, also integrated Hellenic theo-philosophy as well, this element of Christianity being specially emphasized by the early Christian Church Fathers.  Just like Jesus then, Buddha rejected the religious traditions of his forefathers proposed not only an altogether different theo-philosophy, but also a fundamentally different worldview, i.e. metaphysics, as well as a completely different means and approach by which the ultimate goal of life could be reached, a goal which he defined as the cessation of suffering.  Buddhism then was born out of Hinduism just as Christianity was born out of Judaism, and Buddha was a Hindu just as Jesus was a Jew.

After searching for keys to unlock the secret of human suffering in his many years of wandering after he left behind his family and kingdom, Buddha ultimately came to find that none of the teachings he encountered answered his questions satisfactorily, and therefore he rejected Vedic philosophy in all its variations and after his “Awakening”, came to understand and teach a practical handbook of sorts for all seekers of Truth and Knowledge, a much more simplified and practical philosophy, a way of life really, than was then offered by the more traditional orthodox Vedic philosophical schools.

 

The mythical narrative surrounding the birth, life and death of the Prince Siddhartha is consistent with the narratives of most pre-historical heroic figures (Jesus, Hercules, etc.) and starts with stories of his immaculate conception into a ruling family in the foothills of the Himalayas in Northern India.  It is said that upon his birth, which his mother did not survive, he was visited by a great sage who predicted that he would either be a great ruler of men or a great religious teacher and reformer (holy man).  His early childhood and young adulthood was spent living the life of luxury within the confines of multiple palaces and exposed to all the pleasures that one might expect were accessible to a prince.  It is said that his father, given the prophecy upon his birth of the potential for his son to be a great religious prophet and teacher, took great pains to shelter him from any outside influences that would expose him to the suffering and harsh realities of the world which in turn might lead to his renunciation of his birthright.  It is said that he married and had a son and spent the first 29 years of his life in the sheltered and elaborate palace of his father where no desire of his was left unfulfilled.

In his late twenties, a story is told that one day he left the palace of his own volition to view his subjects and kingdom first hand, despite the misgivings and sheltering instincts of his father.  On this journey outside the palace walls, he was exposed to his first examples of the great suffering of the world, seeing first an old man on the verge of death, then a diseased man in great suffering and pain, followed by the corpse of a dead man, and lastly by an ascetic monk who had renounced the world in the classic Vedic monastic tradition which was prevalent at the time.  This experience is said to have completely transformed his view of the world and invoked feelings of tremendous and overwhelming compassion for the plight of his people, inspiring him to renounce his royal pedigree, leave his wife and child, and begin to live the life of an itinerant wandering monk to search for truth and the meaning of life, which was from his perspective the source and possible secret to the end of suffering.

Prince Siddhartha then spent the next several years following various forms of extreme Vedic asceticism and renunciation to try and find the true nature of existence and the path to illumination as prescribed by the teachings of the Vedas, with each successive path and teaching that he followed getting him no closer to the answers to the questions that he was seeking.  It is then said that after practicing these extreme forms of renunciation and deprivation that led him close to the edge of death, he finally gave up these practices as fruitless and settled down under a Bodhi tree (believed to be in Bodh Gaya, India), and resolved to sit in contemplation until either the solution to the nature of suffering and its ultimate liberation was revealed to him or die in the process.

After supposedly sitting in deep meditation for some 49 days, being tempted during his practice by various demons and gods with all sorts of worldly temptations to lead him astray (think Jesus’s 40 days and 40 nights in the desert having been tempted by Satan), at the age of 35 Siddhartha Gautama achieved Enlightenment and arose as the Buddha the name being derived from the root Sanskrit verb ”to know”, or “budh”, meaning “one who is awake”, i.e. the Awakened One.  The term Buddha, or Buddha nature, has come to represent the eternal and ever-present nature of truth and existence which he came to embody after his enlightenment experience under the Bodhi tree.

Upon emerging from this deep meditative and transformative experience, which was supposed marked by a great earthquake when his state of enlightenment was achieved and the eternal truth and knowledge of the nature of suffering and the path by which it could be overcome was revealed to him, Prince Siddartha became Buddha.  Although initially reticent to teaching this new found knowledge to the rest of mankind, believing that everyone was too steeped in ignorance and worldliness to understand, comprehend and ultimately practice the eternal Truth which was revealed to him, it is said that he was convinced by one of the great Indian deities, Brahma Sahampati, to at least try to teach for the good of mankind.

Thus began the teaching phase of his life from which the philosophical system of Buddhism as we know it today has been handed down to us.  It is said that he traveled throughout India and taught his Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path, as well as instituted the practices of Buddhist monasticism, for some 45 years until his death sometime in the 5th or 4th centuries BCE.  These teachings, sometimes referred to as his Buddha Dharma, or the Way of Buddha, represented a complete explanation and exposition of the laws of nature as they applied to the problem, and ultimate solution, of human suffering which was from his perspective the end goal of any theological or philosophical pursuit.  He taught how the great cycle of birth, disease, decay and dying could be overcome by proper understanding, or knowledge of “reality”, or more precisely the shedding of ignorance of the existence of the Self and attachment to which to Buddha attributed the source of suffering.

The historical figure we know today as Buddha was raised on the northern Indian/Nepal border in the foothills of the Himalayas as a prince from an affluent ruling family, living and teaching somewhere between the end of the sixth and early part of the 4th centuries BCE but dated by most scholars to the 5th century BCE.  What we know about the historical figure named Siddhartha Gautama who later became known as the Buddha, is from a corpus of textual material written that is handed down to us in in Pali[3], as well as somewhat later Sanskrit, Tibetan and Chinese transliterations of the Pali texts.  The Tripitaka, or Pali Canon, which is term used for the orthodox and authoritative Buddhist texts, cover not only his teachings, but also include biographic material as well, the latter of which is interspersed with a variety of mythical accounts that established him as a pseudo-divine figure who was born to deliver his message for the good of mankind.  Tripitaka (Tipitaka in Pali), means literally “three baskets”, and while the earliest parts of the canon are believed to have been compiled or transcribed within a few centuries after Buddha died, the biographic material is believed to have been incorporated into the corpus in the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE.

Siddhartha Gautama, or the “Awakened One” as he was referred to by his followers, is one of the most prominent and influential theo-philosophical teachers from antiquity whose influence has spread over the centuries from the Indian subcontinent throughout most of Asia and now in modern times to the West.  In many respects the Pali Canon and teachings of the Buddha which are contained therein can be seen as analogous to the Four Gospels which contain various narratives of the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth and form the core part of the New Testament of the Bible which were written some decades after his death and were only later included as part of the Biblical canon.

According to most scholarly accounts, it is the Pali Canon that represents the oldest authoritative Buddhist scripture.  This strain of Buddhism that considers the Pali Canon to be the authoritative Buddhist scripture is referred to as Theravada Buddhism, Theraveda meaning literally “school of elderly monks” in Pali, as opposed to the slightly more possible and well known variant of Buddhism, at least in the West, called Mahayana Buddhism – of which the more widely known schools of Zen and Tibetan Buddhism are representative for example – and relies on a different set of scriptures than the Theraveda school referred to as the Agamas (“sacred work” or “scripture” in Sanskrit or Pali), which are written in Classical Chinese and referred to as the Chinese Buddhist Canon, or Dàzàngjīng (大藏經).

Mahayana literally means “Great Vehicle” in Sanskrit and focuses more on the monastic aspects of Buddha’s teachings and emphasizes the, rules, rites and practices for those who wish to pursue enlightenment for the good of all sentient beings as Buddha himself did.  These enlightened beings are called bodhisattvas, or “enlightened beings” in the Mahayana school and while the Mahayana school does not necessarily differ from the Theravada tradition (which precedes it historically) in terms of basic philosophical tenets and practices, it nonetheless developed a unique and relatively independent scriptural and philosophical tradition which codified and institutionalized specific doctrines, teachings and practices for the pursuit and attainment of enlightenment, what perhaps Buddhism in modern parlance is best known for.

Despite their differences in interpretation and practices, each adheres to the core basic teachings of Buddha as reflected in his Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, the latter of which outlines the true nature of reality and the causes of suffering and the former which outlines the intellectual and metaphysical basis for the basic precepts and practices which are to bring about the cessation of suffering and ultimately enlightenment and the end if the cycle of death and rebirth.  While Buddhism does not lay out a philosophic doctrine per se, at least not in the classic Western sense of the term, nor does it lay out any systemic laws or beliefs as is characteristic of the Abrahamic religions, it does however lays out basic fundamental precepts about the nature of life and reality from which it establishes a path, the so called “Middle Way”, which is the means by which the bonds of attachment which ultimately lead to suffering can be broken for good, resting on the fundamental assertion that not only is enlightenment possible, but that there is a specific path which can be followed which will ultimately lead to nirvana, the term given to the cessation of suffering and the end of the “wheel of dharma”.

 

When analyzing the teachings of Buddhism, as reflected in the various textual sources which were compiled by his followers sometime after his death, we are left with very similar challenges and pitfalls when studying the philosophy of all of the great teachers in antiquity.  While we can optimistically assume that his precise teachings and doctrines, words and phrases and terminology , were faithfully transcribed by his followers even if several generations of teacher and student transmission existed before any of the actual texts which codify his teachings were transcribed, we still nonetheless have to try and extract what he actually said and taught from the extant literature – for the texts were written in a variety of languages that a) in all likelihood do not reflect the actually language that he spoke, and b) we do know that he did not leave any written materials behind himself.

According to tradition, the transcription of the Pali Canon is the result of the Third Buddhist Council that was convened at the behest of the pious Indian emperor Ashoka Maurya (304-232 BCE) who ruled much of the Indian subcontinent in the third century BCE.  His intent for convening the council, much like the Christian councils that were convened in the 3rd century CE onward, was to standardize the teachings, texts and some philosophical elements of Buddha’s legacy from amongst the various factions that had sprung forth after Buddha’s death, leading to the existence of a variety of teachers and philosophic schools who disagreed on many aspects of the Buddha’s message and precepts.

As the tradition has it, the council lasted nine months and consisted of senior monastic representatives from all around the emperor’s kingdom who debated various aspects of Buddhist doctrine, culminating in the canonization of the scripture, i.e. the establishment of the Pali Canon, and formation of the foundational principles and practices of Theravada Buddhism.  After the council it is said that the emperor dispatched various monks who could recite the teachings by heart to nine different locations throughout the Near and Far East, laying the groundwork for the spread of Buddhist teachings and philosophy not just in the Indian subcontinent, but throughout the ancient world as far East to Burma and even as far West to Persia, Greece and Egypt.

The Tripitaka contain three major sections, (in Sanskrit) the Sutra Pitaka, the Vinaya Pitaka, and the Abhidharma Pitaka.  The Sutra Pitaka is the oldest of the three parts of the canon and is said to have been recited by Ananda, Buddha’s secretary at the First Council, a meeting of five hundred disciples of Buddha shortly after his death to compile his teachings.  It is divided into five sections of sutras which are grouped as nikayas, or “collections” – the Digha Nikaya or “Long Discourses”, the Majihima Nikaya or “Middle Discourses”, Samyutta Nikaya or “Connected Discourses”, the Anguttara Nikaya or “Numerical Discourses”, and the Khuddaka Nikaya or “Minor Collection”.  Another disciple of Buddha named Upali is said to have recited the Vinaya portion of the Tripitaka which deals mostly with rules governing monastic life, reflecting the strong undercurrent of renunciation and monasticism which was an integral part of Buddhism from its inception.  The Abhidharma portion of the is the youngest material and reflects the Buddha’s teachings regarding various deities in heaven during the final period of his Enlightenment and deals with various philosophical and doctrinal issues which help elucidate the some of the more esoteric and obscure aspects of the scripture.

It is from the Sutra Pitaka portion of the Pali Canon that we ascertain the core of Buddhist doctrine as it was understood by his followers and is interpreted by the various schools and practitioners throughout the world today.

 


 

 

[1] Śramaṇa (Samaṇa in Pali) is a Sanskrit word meaning “seeker”, or “one who performs acts of austerity”, or simple an “ascetic” and is used to refer to several Indian theo-philosophical intellectual developments that emerged in the first half of the first millennium BCE as distinct, and in opposition to, the more prevalent “orthodox” Vedic tradition which came to represent the basis of the Hindu faith, hence their categorization as “heterodox”.  These intellectual theo-philosophical developments and schools of thought ran directly parallel, and are believed to have influenced, the philosophy of the Upanishads.  Theo-philosophical traditions such as Jainism, Buddhism, as well as the lesser known traditions such as Ājīvika, Ajñana and Cārvāka are all considered to be part of the Śramaṇa movement.  Classical Indian philosophical conceptions such as saṃsāra and moksha are believed to have originated within these schools of thought, conceptions that were later integrated into some of the major Indian philosophical schools such as Yoga and Samkhya.  See Wikipedia contributors, ‘Śramaṇa’, Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 18 September 2016, 02:20 UTC, <https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=%C5%9Arama%E1%B9%87a&oldid=739942627> [accessed 18 September 2016] as well as the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on Buddha: Siderits, Mark, “Buddha”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2015/entries/buddha/&gt;.

[3] Pali is a Prakrit language native to the Indian subcontinent, believed to have originated in Northern India, and very closely related to Sanskrit, with most words existing in both languages with simple phonetic transliterations between the two.  Pali is a language in the Indo-European/Indo-Iranian language family whose main historical significance is that it is the language of one, if not the, main source of Buddhist scripture and philosophy

The Philosophy of the East: The Legacy of the Indo-Aryans

Introduction

Throughout academic parlance in the Enlightenment Era intellectual and philosophical development throughout mankind’s history has been divided into Eastern and Western branches.  The Eastern branch of thought and development for many centuries was looked upon as “Oriental”, a term that has fallen out of favor in academic and intellectual circles in no small measure due to the fact that it implied and originated within the context of the colonization of a good part of the “Eastern” world and Western academic pursuits into understanding the nature of theological and philosophical, as well as socio-political development of the so-called East – an outsiders view that came with its own bias that is considered by most scholars to be one of supremacy and dominance that looked down upon the cultural and religious systems of the East with not disdain per se but most certainly with a sense of arrogance and superiority.

The problem however, despite these known biases, is that the classification of East versus West does have a certain clarity and clean delineation in modes of thought however, modes of thought that are divided at least intellectually by what could be termed reductionist versus holistic.  In other words, even if the classification of certain ways of thinking and development as a whole doesn’t have a specific geographical divide between East and West (although one could argue that in fact does), the tendency to break things down into parts and explore their relationships as individual automata and their interactions does in fact characterize Western thinking more or less since Hellenistic antiquity and the tendency to look at individuals within the context of their relationship to the whole, or the universe at large, does in fact characterize “Eastern” modes of thought to a great extent.

Charlie had spent a great deal of time considering and outlining as best he could the theological and philosophical development in the West, starting with ancient cosmological and theistic systems based upon the worship of deities, sacrificial practices and such that were steeped in mythology and then evolved into the monotheistic forms of religion which we are most familiar with and dominate the Western intellectual and theological landscape today – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – and out of which, mostly in reaction to, arose our fascination toward science proper which although has allowed for great advancements in science and technology has to a large extent left us with a very objective and reductionist view of reality.

There were parallel developments to the East however, to the East of ancient Greece, Rome and the Byzantine Empire which evolved very much independently to Western theological and philosophical development.  Specifically we’re referring to the Vedic and Indo-Aryan tradition which arose out of ancient India based upon the philosophy of the Upanishads, the mythology of the Bhagavad Gita, Brahma Sutras and other ancient Indian texts and their subsequent interpretation from 2500 BCE onwards, the tradition of Buddhism which stemmed from the teachings of the great and influential Siddhartha Gautama who himself was greatly influenced by ancient Vedic religious doctrines and practices even if he rejected them for the most part, and in Taoism which took root in China and the far east from the middle of the first millennia onwards and still thrives today.  These theological and philosophical systems of belief are interesting to analyze not just in the wisdom which they present but also as contrasting and opposing modes of thought to the reductionist and rationalist way of thinking which underpins modern science as well as the overall worldview of the West.

Arguably one of the unique contributions of Indo-Aryan philosophy (to which Vedanta and Buddhism ultimately owe their heritage) to modern day theology and spirituality is their fundamental belief in the individual nature of the religious experience and the faith in what is variously referred to as “realization”, “liberation”, “enlightenment”, or “nirvana” all of which are various terms used to describe the state or act of direct experience of the divine in this very life – juxtaposed with the focus on an afterlife in heaven which characterizes most if not all of the Western theological traditions.  This fundamental belief lies at the heart of the Vedic philosophical system, which is the philosophical and mystical counterpart of Hinduism proper, as well the theo-philosophical system of Buddhism.  [Taoism has a slightly different bent in that it focuses on the way and the balancing of opposites as the path to peace, tranquility and happiness rather than as enlightenment itself being the ultimate goal of life, more akin to Buddhism with its emphasis on the way than Vedanta per se].

 

What is Vedanta?

The ancient Indo-Aryan civilization sprung forth in the Indus valley region in modern day India and Pakistan (to the ancients Eastern Persia), and was the source of the “Vedas”, some of the oldest extant literature of mankind.  This ancient Indus Valley civilization, from which one of the great world renowned religions called Hinduism was birthed, spread and flourished in the northwestern part of the Indian subcontinent from circa 3300 to 1300 BCE, roughly aligning with the peak of ancient Egyptian civilization although contact between the two civilizations was limited if not absent entirely based upon the archeological record.  The civilization from which Hinduism emerged is traditionally associated with the Indus valley, a river system from which an ancient culture could grow crops and thrive, a similar relationship to the Sumerians and their Tigris/Euphrates and the Egyptians and their Nile.  This relationship with water and its fundamental existence and prerequisite feature for the source of life, clearly left its mark on the Cosmology and creation mythology of all of these ancient cultures.  The Hindus believed in the Cosmic Waters (apas in Sanskrit) as the source of the known universe, just as the Egyptians had their concept of Nu and the Ancient Sumerians had their Apsu.[2]

Their theological doctrines and philosophy, as reflected in the Vedas, was a core part of their society and from a very early stage and the social structure even was architected to reflect this, namely that the sacred teachings of the Vedas were to be protected by a specific class of society, the Brahmins.  In some respects the establishment of a priestly, learned class that was kept separate from the rest of the society (the Kshatriya or ruling/warrior class, the Vaishyas or the merchant class and the Shudras or laborers being the other classes of society in classic Hindu culture) reflected developments to the West where first the priests, then the philosophers and then finally the Church itself (the Imam in the Muslim community) became the established authority on matters dealing with intellectual development, education, or course religious matters and ultimately eternal freedom.

Although in antiquity Vedānta referred more specifically to the philosophic portion of the Vedas (Vedanta literally means “end of the Vedas”), the bulk of the content coming from the Upanishads, over time Vedanta took on a broader meaning to represent the body of work and knowledge that interpreted the meaning of the Upanishads, which in turn incorporated the Bhagavad Gita and Brahma Sutras more directly into the philosophic tradition.

The primary sources for what is considered modern day Vedanta are three main collections of verses or texts are the Upanishads[3], representing the end of the Vedas or the philosophical and mystical portions of the Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita or “Song of the Lord” from the epic poem the Mahabharata, and the Brahma Sutras which was an attempt at consolidating and synthesizing Vedantic philosophy from the 2nd or third century CE.  Vyasa is the supposed author attributed to the works of the Mahabharata and the Brahma Sutras, while the Upanishads are considered to be the divine inspiration of the rishis, or seers, who fully realized and codified the knowledge of Brahman as put forth in the Upanishads.  The three works together are also referred to as the Prasthanas, or canonical books, that form the foundation of the philosophy of Vedanta and form the foundation of Hindu religion even to this day.

The Vedas are the oldest Indo-Aryan Sanskrit[4] texts and are the oldest extant Hindu scripture.  The Sanskrit word véda means “knowledge” or “wisdom” and is derived from the root vid, “to know”.  Like many other religious traditions, the Vedas are said not to have been recorded and authored per se, but were revealed to these ancient rishis, passed down from generation o generation from teacher to student in a long standing oral tradition, and then documented and transcribed by scholars and sages somewhere between the second and first millennium BCE.  Vedanta, somewhat literally translated as “the end”, or “goal”, of the Vedas, represents the philosophical or metaphysical tradition of the Hindus and represents the philosophical portions of the Vedas, i.e. the portions of the Vedas that do not deal with sacrifice, ritual or dharma (righteous action).

Vedānta is also sometimes referred to as Uttarā-Mīmāṃsā, or the ‘latter’ or ‘higher’ inquiry, as juxtaposed with Purva-Mīmāṃsā, or the ‘former’ inquiry which deals with ritual and sacrifice described in the Samhita portion of the Vedas and Brahmanas while Vedanta proper expounds upon the more esoteric teachings of the Āranyakas and the Upanishads.  As defined by Shankara, perhaps the greatest of all the Vedic philosophers in antiquity, the term Upanishad is in effect a veiled reference to the content of the Upanishad itself, namely Brahmavidya, knowledge of Brahman, and Atmavidya, knowledge of Self.

The corpus of Vedic texts, all transcribed in some form of Sanskrit, include the Samhita, which are collections of mantras from the four Vedas, the Brahmanas which are prose texts that describe Hindu sacrifice and ritual, some of the older Upanishads such as the Mukya, Chandogya, Katha and Brhadaranyaka which deal with esoteric ideas and concepts describing the nature of Brahman and the soul (Atman), and other sutra (literally “thread”) literature dealing with Hindu rituals and sacred rites.  Each of the Brahmanas is associated with one of the Samhitas and may also include Aranyakas, literally “forest texts”, as well as Upanishad texts which again represent the philosophical and metaphysical, or perhaps better put mystical, interpretations of the sacred rituals.

Parts of the Brahmanas, Aranyakas, as well as Upanishads explore what have become the theological underpinnings of Hinduism, notions such as Brahman, the absolute or underlying nature of all things, and Atman, the individuation of the principle of Brahman in man or the soul as it is usually translated, the relationship of which represents the core pillars of Vedic philosophy.  The Upanishads however form the philosophical backbone of Vedanta and much like the ancient scripture of the Jews (Old Testament) or Zoroastrians (Avesta), the Upanishads and the rest of the Vedic scripture in toto represent an oral tradition that reaches deep into antiquity that was only later documented, dated by most scholars in the second and first millennium BCE.

The oldest parts of Vedic literature, the Rig Veda for example, give us a glimpse of the life of the Indo-Aryan  peoples who first settled and formed complex social structures in the Indus Valley some seven thousand years or so ago and the nature of the language of old Vedic Sanskrit points to shared linguistic and philological with Indo-Iranian culture and civilization that populated the region to the West dominated by the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.

The Rig Veda is one of, if not the, primary source texts of mythology, rituals and belief systems of the people of the Indus Valley region, and is one of the oldest extant texts in the Indo-European language family.  It is thought to have been composed somewhere in the middle or end of the second millennium BCE (based upon philological and corroborated archeological evidence), roughly between 1700 and 1100 BCE.  Even though the text is interspersed with mythology and outlines the characters and principles from which the known universe was birthed, the text also states unequivocally the unknowable nature of the source of the universe/cosmos, marking its core philosophical bent and providing the foundation for the later Upanishads which were primarily concerned with the nature of Brahman and Atman and their realization and manifestation rather than mythology per se.

Fundamental to the Upanishad texts themselves and the broader Vedanta philosophic tradition as a whole is the establishment of the importance of self-realization as the goal of life.  In the Upanishads it is Brahman that represents the universal spirit that underlies all of the cosmos and all of its creation and it is through connection with Atman is that the individual can recognize their unity with all pervading Brahman.  This knowledge is called “Brahmavidya, or literally knowledge of Brahman, which reveals to the jiva the illusory nature of physical reality or maya, the universe being the “play”, lila of Ishvara. Brahman as espoused in the Upanishads, despite the tendency toward anthropomorphization, represents the ultimate unity of all things and creatures, animate and inanimate, and the belief in an indelible construct or consciousness which pervades the entire universe and which feeds and gives energy to all life.

 

Interpretations of Vedanta

The first attempt at compiling and synthesizing the teachings of Vedanta, their interpretation as it were, is contained in the Brahma Sutras (sometimes referred to as the Vedānta Sutras) which are believed to have been written somewhere around the 2nd century CE, the text being attributed to the mythical sage Vyasa who is also the author to whom the Mahabharata is attributed.  The Brahma Sutras are part of the Uttara-Mimamsa (Vedantic) tradition and are in essence a summary and compilation of the teachings of the Upanishads.  It is in the Brahma Sūtras that the teachings of Vedānta are set forth in a systematic and logical order, rather than the scattered and somewhat inconsistent manner which the teachings are presented in the Vedas given their deep historical and sometimes esoteric roots and their focus on ritual and sacrifice.

The Bhagavad Gita, or the “Song of the Lord”, has also played a significant role in the development of Vedantic thought over the centuries.  The text is a part of the ancient Sanskrit epic the Mahabharata of which some of its oldest parts date from the middle or early part of the first millennium BCE.  The Bhagavad Gita is a portion of this mythological epic text and is a narrative of a dialogue between Lord Krishna and Prince Arjuna that takes place on the eve of a great battle.  Arjuna, whose name means “bright” or “shining”, is one of the five Pandava brothers, all sons of Pandu who are aligned against their cousins the Kauravas, descendents of Kuru in the Kurukshetra War.  This is he stage from which Krishna, Arjuna’s charioteer, gives his great teaching around the nature of duty, the soul, the universe and the path to liberation – the “Song of the Lord” which is undoubtedly one of the greatest epics of all time commensurate in stature and influence to the East as the Iliad or the Odyssey is in the West.

Arjuna voices to Lord Krishna great reservations and misgivings about the righteousness of the war in general and more specifically the duty to kill his enemies, who in this particular case were his cousins.  Krishna at one point in the dialogue reveals himself as God in a great vision to Arjuna and represented an example of the avatar tradition which is a marked and unique trait of the Hindu faith.  An avatar is a human incarnation of the divine, one who although is none other than the great Ishvara himself takes human form from time to time to show jivas the true nature of existence and lay out the path to liberation for each new age.

Krishna helps Arjuna understand why he must fight, and why it is morally right for him to do so, and the context of this dialogue forms the essence of the philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita.  In the process of his expositions, Lord Krishna expounds upon key Vedantic philosophical constructs such as moksha (liberation), karma (action), and dharma (righteous conduct), forming the foundation of the practice of Yoga and helping the great prince understand that while it may seem immoral for him to go to war with his kin, it is nonetheless his duty to do so and it would in fact be immoral to abstain from fighting.  The metaphor is intended of course to not only justify the class differentiation which represented the fabric of ancient Hindu society but to hold Arjuna up to its people as a “shining” example of the just and moral life.

Outside of the esoteric notions of Brahman and Atman which are explored and eulogized in the more esoteric parts of Vedic scripture, there does also exist in the tradition a parallel notion of anthropomorphic deities consistent with the pantheon of gods that colored the mythology of the rest of the cultures from antiquity – The Greeks, Persians, Romans, Egyptians, etc.  This concept of God, or Ishvara, is present in the Upanishads and the Vedas as well (and is topic of the Puranas, one of the other canonical works of Hinduism proper), but at least within Vedanta is subservient to the higher, more abstract, truths elucidated throughout the Vedic literature –   Brahman alone is real, and it is through knowledge and realization of Atman and its ultimate unity with Brahman that the cycle of birth and death can be broken and the bondage of desire and attachment be rent asunder.

The core premise of the Upanishads and Vedanta in general then, and what distinguishes the philosophical system from the Western philosophical and theological traditions, is the belief in each individual’s (Atman) ultimate unity with the divine light that permeates the entire universe that is omnipresent and all-pervading (Brahman), and the intrinsic innate ability of all individual souls (jivas), to achieve the experience of this unity directly and therefore become fully realized beings free from all suffering and bondage – a state called moksha in Sanskrit.  Although from the absolute perspective, Brahman and Atman are one and the same, indistinguishable entities, we do not realize this as such due to our belief in the reality of the human form and the physical world, the ultimate source of all suffering and delusion according to Vedanta.  [One can see the clear parallels to Buddhist doctrine here despite the different semantics and the different focus on the “path” rather than the esoteric philosophy itself.]

Brahman then, as conceived by the Hindus which is the word we use in modern parlance to describe the people of India who descend from the people of the Indus Valley region, is a self-evident construct that was is not just as old as civilization itself, it is in fact as old as mankind and is the source of life.  The ancient Vedic religion from which Vedanta emerged was steeped in ritual no doubt, consistent with all of the hunter-gatherer societies throughout the world and from which modern civilization eventually evolved, but the essence of the rituals was not lost and the highest form of teaching in the Vedic tradition was not the rituals per se, but the meaning behind the rituals, an idea that was part of the tradition itself since inception.

While the Hindus kept their various gods and goddesses, they also held true to the messages of the great rishis of old and laid out perhaps a sophisticated system of psychology, theology and metaphysics whose ultimate objective was the realization that God (Brahman) did in fact exist, could in fact be realized just as clearly as the realization of the world of objects all around us are realized by our (physical) senses, and that in fact we as humans were fundamentally designed for this realization, our individual consciousness being simply a reflection of this broader sometimes anthropomorphized principle of the universe, i.e. Brahman.  According to the Hindu faith, this heaven on earth so to speak was the birth right of all of us – no passage or gateway or ticketing required.

The authors of Vedic scripture in fact took pains to apply as systematic and comprehensive an intellectual framework as possible, alongside guidelines on morality and ethics that were based upon virtues like justice and duty, in contrast to its Western religious brethren that laid out more specific rules of conduct that were baked into the fabric of the theology – a trademark of Judaism and Islam and a source of much of their rigidity and inflexibility to adapt to modern times in many respects.

 

The End of the Vedas: Yoga and Samadhi

Another aspect of the teaching which was unique was the metaphysics and theology laid out the reality of a divine superconscious state, samadhi in the Yogic branch of Vedanta, which corresponds more or less to the Buddhist concept of nirvana, along with a natural philosophy and system of ethics which for the most part – independent of the caste system, remnants of which can still be found in modern India – evolved independent of authority and power.  Although the Hindu caste system which is embedded in the fabric of Vedic literature had/has its draw backs no doubt, reflecting a system that is anything but a meritocracy, one advantage to the system is that there is a clear demarcation between the ruling class – Kshatriya to which Arjuna belongs – and the priestly class, the Brahmins, allowing for independent development of philosophic thought and “freedom of religion” so to speak that is definitely not a characteristic of Western theological development.  This separation of classes allowed sages over the centuries to pursue the end of these Vedas without the risk of persecution.

In Hinduism then, and in its branches like Buddhism (for Buddhism is to the Hindus what Judaism is to the Christians, Buddha was a Hindu like Jesus was a Jew) presumed this fundamental distinction between church and state, or perhaps more aptly put this individuation (to borrow a Jungian term) of religion.  The Hindus did not codify these separation principles into law per se, as has been done in modern American and European society (i.e. the West) after centuries of religious persecution, but the principle of religious freedom represented a core, integral part of Hindu culture just the same.

And from this social acceptance of the individual expression of the divine, many great sages and seers, known as rishis , had been born since the dawn of man that perennially personified this apex and goal of the Hindu religious system – namely the realization of the divine in this very life.  The Indo-Aryan theological tradition (which includes Buddhism and Yoga as well as Hinduism/ Vedanta) more so than any other allows for, and in fact insists upon, the existence of sages and seers throughout history who literally incarnate the divine and eternal truth underlying the universe and re-establish the core tenets of the Vedas, translating the eternal message for each era and each people as the need arises.  Krishna, Buddha, and Chaitanya, Ramakrishna and countless others are examples of incarnations where Ishvara himself has taken human form to shed light upon the mysteries of the universe.

These great sages, these rishis, personified the goal of oneness with the divine, the perception of the kingdom of heaven within, and realized the end of the Hindu scriptures.  And they all accomplished this in their own unique way and yet at the same time each of them reestablished the validity of these ancient scriptures, renewing the people’s faith in their content and precepts which had been born so many thousands of years prior.  To all of these great sages the mind and body, and reason and logic itself, was to be used to realize the truth of this oneness.  That was its sole purpose of existence.  This truth was the great gift that was handed down from the ages from the Vedas.

 

 


[2] You could argue that all of these traditions stemmed from one ancient source mythology, and in fact some scholars in modern times had started looking at and for such similar roots as put forth by E.J. M. Witzel in his The Origins of the World’s Mythologies, but it seems more plausible that an explanation of the similarities in the cosmologies of these ancient civilizations stems from individual cultures and societies having similar challenges and relationships with the environment which governed their existence from which their similar mythologies emerged, which in each case was defined by their relationship with the river system that their civilization grew and evolved around.  The river system was the source of their food and sustenance, and framed their idea of the passage of time and sense of order.  Therefore these basic principles were reflected in each of the different civilization’s cosmology to a large extent.

[3] The word Upanishad is derived from the Sanskrit root sad, which means to ‘to loosen’ or ‘‘to attain’ or even ‘to annihilate’, combined with the prefixes “upa” and “ni”, which denote ‘nearness’ or ‘sitting beside’ and ‘totality’ respectively.  You can therefore translate the meaning of Upanishad to mean something along the lines of “that which is attained completely and entirely whilst sitting beside or near to”, referring to the tradition of sitting beside a teacher and learning, the educational practice that is embedded in the Vedic tradition itself from inception.

[4] Sanskrit was the primary liturgical language of Hinduism and its offshoots Buddhism and Jainism and virtually all of the ancient texts of these religions were authored in Sanskrit.  Sanskrit’s position in the cultures of Greater India is akin to that of Latin and Greek in Europe and it has significantly influenced most modern languages of the Indian subcontinent, particularly in India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal.  The pre-Classical form of Sanskrit is known as Vedic Sanskrit, and it was the language used in the Vedas, the oldest texts of the Indo-Aryan peoples that described their cosmologies and rituals that survive and whose underlying rituals and theology carry into Hinduism and Buddhism even to this day.  This qualifies Rigvedic Sanskrit as one of the oldest attestations of any Indo-Iranian language, and one of the earliest attested members of the Indo-European language family, the family which includes English and most European languages.

Hellenistic Theo-Philosophy: Sowing the Seeds of Christianity

Despite his search through the evolution of thought from the dawn of civilization, particularly in the Mediterranean and Near/Far East, Charlie still had yet to find that marker, that break, where man had become so convinced of the reality of the empirical world, that reality which had laid its foundation on that which could be measured, weighed, seen or heard, the blind faith in materialism within which the world of objects was wholly distinct from and separate from the observer, their subject.

This to him was the fatal flaw of modern times, the religion of the world that justified selfishness and the blind pursuit of wealth and power and its natural subjugation of selflessness, service and commitment to one’s fellow man and the common good.  This was the same search that drove Robert Pirsig to insanity and led him to create a new metaphysics for the modern age, the Metaphysics of Quality; Quality in his framework being an intuitive state beyond subject and object from which all experience, subjective or objective, sprung forth naturally.

Charlie had looked at the cosmological traditions of the Ancient Sumer-Babylonian culture, the cosmology of the Ancient Egyptians, the cosmology of the Ancient Greeks, the Indo-Aryan theological and metaphysical tradition that was reflected in the Vedas, the cosmological tradition of the Judeo-Christian culture as reflected in the Old Testament, the birth of Western philosophy that was born from Ancient Greece, and even into the life and works of Sir Isaac Newton, and yet nowhere could he find a presumption of a clear distinction of the materialistic world within which we all live and breathe from the person with whom was doing the living and breathing.  Even Newton, despite the field of classical mechanics which stemmed from his seminal work Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica at the end of the 17th century, did not profess the reality of the objective world, but simply the mathematical principles that governed natural philosophy, harkening back to the fields of knowledge, or episteme, that were established by Aristotle two millennia prior.  And yet it was from Newton’s work that the basis and foundation for materialism was born clearly.

The cosmological traditions that grew out of the Ancient Mediterranean and Indo-Aryan civilizations centered around the development of order out of this chaos, a birth of the universe from out of the cosmic void by some central creative principle, be it anthropomorphic in nature or not.  And each of the cosmological traditions spoke of the this primordial order or law being the founding principle upon which the earth, heavens, seasons and other natural laws rested upon to provide for the foundations of human life.  These cossmological traditions spoke of the cycles that governed this order of the universe, cycles which reflected the Ancient’s dependence and observance upon the world around them – the cycles of flood and recession of water of their respective river systems, the passage of the stars throughout the sky throughout the course of the year that marked the seasons, the passage of the sun and moon across the heavens that marked the passage of the days, months and years, even the cycle of birth and death which bounded human life and the soul.

But each of these cosmological and cultural systems also contained complementary mythologies – the Babylonian epic of Gilgamesh, the Greek journey of Odysseus, the myth of Ra and Horus of the Egyptians, the fables of Krishna in the Mahabharata – all of which made up what the later Greek philosophers deemed mythos, as distinguished from logos or reason.  These respective mythologies spoke to the ethical and moral virtues and qualities which the societies’ citizens should aspire to, wrapping ethical and moral principles in the blanket of fable and story, dipped in just enough history to make the myths credible.

In many cases however, these cosmologies and mythologies, collectively mythos, were also used to establish the legitimacy of power of the respective rulers and priestly classes of these ancient societies, tainting these traditions with some level of propaganda that reinforced this underlying societal order to which all individuals must confirm.  And this bastardization of the mythical and cosmological traditions was not lost on the ancient scholars and thinkers, particularly after the prevalence of writing which allowed scholars and philosophers to begin codifying and documenting their respective metaphysical beliefs.  And it was from this understanding, this knowledge, this rebellion against the lack of rational foundation of the prevailing mythos of these ancient cultures, from which ancient philosophy was born.  And more so than any other culture, it was the Hellenic philosophers that carried this first torch, who dedicated their lives to establishing the supremacy of reason and logic over faith in mythology or the reigning gods, theos, of the day.

During the height of Greek/Hellenic influence in the Mediterranean from the 6th century BC down through reign of Alexander the Great (356 – 323 BC)[1], his empire extending Hellenic influence well beyond the Mediterranean to the East, through the time of Roman influence through the Republic and then into the Roman Empire at the turn of the millennium that dominated the Mediterranean and beyond until at least the fifth century CE, Hellenic philosophical development took root and evolved in a cultural melting pot that included Egyptian, Babylonian, Greek, and Roman cultures.  And as it developed, their respective cultural theologies and mythologies were synthesized and each of the respective civilizations adapted and evolved the Greek philosophies to their own cultural and theological bent.

With the advent of the Macedonian Empire stemming from Alexander’s conquests, the spread of Greek culture moved beyond just the areas in and around Athens and the surrounding city-states.  Alexander’s empire at its height extended as far south as Thebes in Egypt to as far East as the Indus river in the Indian subcontinent.  This imperial conquest enabled Greek culture and thought to spread throughout the ancient world, at least definitively assimilated into Sumer-Babylonian and Egyptian culture, and at least some evidence that there was Hellenic influence exerted in the Indian subcontinent as well despite Alexander’s failed attempt to conquer the territories east of the Indus River in the Indian subcontinent[2].

Historically, this cultural intermixing and spread of – primarily Athenian – Greek culture into these foreign lands is referred to as Hellenization, and despite its imperial context, this cross-pollination of cultures contained the seeds of much of the philosophical and theological evolution that took place until Christianity took hold in the Western Europe and around the Mediterranean in the 4th and 5th centuries CE with the adoption of Christianity as the de facto religion of the Roman Empire.

This next stage of Western metaphysical and theological thought in the Ancient world after the decline of the influence of Athens as the cultural and intellectual center of the Ancient Mediterranean developed in a much more cross-cultural context than the tradition which preceded it where traditions developed in a much more insular and isolated fashion.  And Greek philosophic thought, more so than any other theo-cultural tradition, predominated in the centuries following Plato and Aristotle and took root not only in Ancient Greece, but also in Ancient Egypt and the Near East as well, albeit driven mostly by cultural assimilation forced by military conquest more so than anything else.

Running parallel to the maturation and evolution of Hellenic philosophy, to the East the Indo-Aryan civilization was going through a similar transformation from the prevalence of a polytheistic, priestly authoritarian and mythological based religious tradition based upon the ritualistic practices outlined in Hinduism complemented with the mythological traditions encapsulated in their two great epic poems the Mahabharata, and the Ramayana, to a more open and accessible philosophical movement which aimed to explain the universe and mankind’s place in it within the context of a more reasonable and rational framework.  This intellectual development was primarily driven by the analysis, commentary and interpretation of the more esoteric and philosophical aspects of the Vedas (or more specifically the Upanishads which according to most scholarship were transcribed in Sanskrit between the end of the 2nd millennium BC down through the middle of the first millennium BC), complemented by the spread of Buddhism which took hold in the Indian subcontinent in the 4th century BC.

Buddhism for example arose from the Ancient Indo-Aryan civilization as a reaction to the prevalent Hinduism and caste system of the day which Siddartha Gautama (c 563 – 483 BC) saw as exclusive and divergent from its true Hindu roots – at least as represented by the more esoteric aspects of Hinduism as laid out in the Upanishads – and lacking a true theo-ethical framework within which the all people of caste and creed may escape the world of suffering and endless chasing after worldly desire; the so-called Middle Way as laid out in his Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path, a path open to all seekers within which the bondage of suffering could be broken.

From Charlie’s perspective, no matter what dating of the Upanishads you wanted to ascribe to, either a tradition that went as far back as the early part of the second millennium BC or as late as the middle of the first, it was clear that the Upanishadic philosophical tradition of the Indo-Aryans preceded its Hellenistic counterpart by some centuries at least.  To what extent the Hellenistic philosophical systems that blossomed in the send half of the first millennium BC in Greece borrowed from their Indo-Aryan brethren, rather than arising independently and spontaneously as a result of the same rebellious forces to religious orthodoxy, was open to scholarly debate.  Nonetheless, it would very be hard to argue that both of these rich theo-philosophical systems did not spring from the same common quest for knowledge and understanding by use of reason and logic, rather than the predisposition to naïve faith and belief in mythology as had been predominant in the era before the advent of human urban civilization up until the turn of the first millennium BC[3].

The Indo-Aryan theo-philosophical tradition as reflected in the development of Vedanta in the first millennium BC is unique relative to its Hellenistic counterpart in that to a great extent Vedanta continues to flourish today thanks to its reincarnation with the teachings of Swami Vivekananda and the Ramakrishna Order, whereas the Hellenistic philosophical tradition, as primarily reflected in the works of Plato and Aristotle, was effectively swallowed by Christianity (and Islam) in the second half of the first millennium CE.

Unique to the Hindu tradition from which Vedanta springs, there existed in the ancient texts not only the establishment of the authority of the Brahmins and their role as priests and the presider over religious ceremonies and rites, but also a firm belief in the divine nature of the spirit, or Atman and its underlying unity with the penultimate creative principle of the universe, or Brahman.  In Hinduism, metaphysics as it were was baked into its religious tradition from very early on, albeit developing in parallel but part of the same tradition nonetheless, whereas to the West the metaphysics developed independent of religion per se.

Christianity and Islam incorporated some of the metaphysical and philosophical traditions that came before them, namely Hellenistic philosophy, but for the most part operate independently of these metaphysical traditions, as they continue to do so today.  Not so in the Eastern tradition, or at least not as much.  As a reflection of this, India today, despite its conquest over the millennia by a long list of cultures and their representative religions, retains a well-established and long standing tradition of spiritual and theological freedom from within which many religious practices and theological traditions have flourished alongside each other for centuries, stemming no doubt from the richness and depth of the teachings of the Vedas and their respect for individual realization.

And yet throughout all of this synthesis and assimilation, the Greek philosophical tradition still dominated the metaphysical landscape, even if the religious or theological underpinnings remained different depending upon the cultural context.  And this markedly Hellenistic philosophy was built upon and refined over the centuries, even with respect to the integration and utilization of various religious developments following the decline of the Roman Empire – namely Christianity, Judaism and even Islam.

So how did this synthesis of the Hellenistic philosophical systems occur?  The Eastern traditions have an unbroken link to their underlying metaphysics for the most part, the metaphysics and theology developed alongside each other, even the mythical tradition as reflected in the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita ran complimentary to the underlying theology and metaphysics of the Hindus, but the Judeo-Christian tradition, and in turn the Islamic tradition which sprung from the same roots, was different.  These monotheistic religions and their associated theologies were born from the melting pot of philosophical thought which dominated the Mediterranean and surrounding areas at the time of Jesus’s teaching to the few centuries thereafter, culminating in the adoption of Christianity as the de facto religion of the Roman Empire.

Middle Platonism is the term historians and scholars give to the time period marked by the advent of Antiochus of Ascalon (c 125 – 68 BC), a student of the Academy which Plato founded who diverged from the skepticism taught at the Academy for the few centuries following its founding and integrated Stoic and Peripatetic (school founded by Aristotle) principles into Platonic philosophy, arguing that truth and falsehood could in fact be discerned and that the intellect was capable of making the distinction.  Middle Platonism extends until the development of what modern historians and scholars call Neo-Platonism, as put forth by Plotinus (c 204 – 270 CE) and then transcribed by his pupil Porphyry (c 234 – 305 CE) in his seminal work Enneads, which laid out a comprehensive monotheistic doctrine that built off the original Platonic philosophy.  Middle Platonism then covered some four of five centuries of development, all occurring against a backdrop of cultural assimilation marked most notably by the rise of the Roman Empire as well as the development of early Christianity.[4]

Much of what we know about philosophical development during this time, even as far back as the pre-Socratics from the 6th to the 4th centuries BC down through the establishment of the Academy by Plato and the Peripatetic school founded by Aristotle toward the latter part of the 4th century BC stems from the work of a Diogenes Laertius, a 3rd century CE biographer and historian who wrote Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, the primary extant source from which we understand the development of Greek philosophy in the ancient world and within which a summary of the doctrines of many ancient historic theo-philosophies are described in detail.

In this work, Diogenes divides ancient philosophy into Ionian and Italian schools, the former tradition represented not only by pre-Socratic philosophers such as Thales of Miletus and Solon, but also the Socratic tradition which of course included the works of Plato and Aristotle and others that followed them.  In the Italian school, he included the Eleatics, Atomists and Skeptics, expounding upon the life and works of such renowned philosophers as Pythagoras, Empedocles, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Zeno, and Democritus among others.

As Diogenes describes the tradition that evolved in and around the Academy after Plato, under the leadership of Arcesilaus in the middle of the 3rd century BC the school started to emphasize skepticism, or the denial of the possibility of knowledge of absolute truth, following to a great extent the Platonic tradition that rested on the principle that one might know what the source of all Forms or Ideas are “like”, but the full and complete comprehension of their essence was beyond intellectual capability of the human mind.  This development can be seen to some extent in contrast to the popularity of Stoicism, the tradition founded by Zeno in the 3rd century BC, which taught that destructive emotions came from ignorance, and the development of the intellect and a rigorous moral and ethical framework would lead an individual out of the suffering stemming from these unchecked emotions, i.e. the comprehension of truth and knowledge was possible and in fact was the way to the path of virtue and true happiness[5].

The Academy’s rich history ends with Philo of Larissa, the last undisputed head of the Academy from 110/109 BC until his death in 84/83 BC, whose student Antiochus breaks from the skeptical traditions that marked the Academy’s tradition in the prior few centuries and attempts to provide a broader metaphysical framework which rests more faith in the capacity of the intellect and the reality of the sensory and materialistic world than his Academic predecessors.

Middle Platonism and Stoicism, markedly Hellenic theo-philosophical systems set in motion by Socrates (c 469 – 399 BC) and Zeno of Citium (334 – 262 BC) respectively[6], had a broad influence on not only Hellenistic philosophy, but also extended into the period of Roman influence as well, challenging the prevailing polytheistic and mythological traditions of the respective cultures and providing for a rational framework of viewing the world which sat in contrast to mythological traditions and blind faith in the gods.  Each school not only attempted to open up religion[7] to the masses in their own way, but also applying its core metaphysical principles to subjective reasoning and logic.  Buddhism in turn sprung from the same forces in the East a century earlier.  Each of these belief systems at one level or another professed that a direct relationship to the divine was to be had by all, and could be understood, or known, and furthermore that the knowledge of the nature of the universe and man’s place in it was not the divine right of just a few selected, preordained priests or rulers.  Furthermore, none of these belief systems espoused an anthropomorphic deity per se, this was a later development stemming from Christianity (which had Judaic roots of course), and their genesis was a direct response to, a rebellion away from, the polytheistic and priestly religions which had dominated the ancient civilizations surrounding the Mediterranean for millennia[8].

These new systems of belief reflected by Stoicism, Middle Platonism and even Buddhism from further East weren’t just religions per se, they were holistic belief systems that attempted to not only explain the world around them in a rational and logical way (Aristotle’s natural philosophy), but also attempted to establish a rational, logical framework to describe the principles that sat behind the universe and what laws it was governed by (Aristotle’s first philosophy and principles of causality).  Furthermore, all of these theo-philosophical systems provided the synthesis of a way of living that prescribed a moral and ethical framework within which the goal of life was to be pursued, based upon principles such as virtue, excellence, reason, and compassion.  These were integrated systems open to all that attempted to provide a rational structure of the universe that was synthesized with a moral and ethical framework that ascribed to reason and logic as their foundations, divorcing themselves from the mythological belief systems that marked the pre-civilized era of human history.

With the fall of Athens as the socio-cultural epicenter of the Ancient Western world following the Peloponnesian War (431 to 404 BC), a new cultural and academic center developed in Alexandria in Northern Egypt a century or so later after Ptolemy (Ptolemy I Soter) consolidated his rule over Egypt in the decades following Alexander’s sudden demise.  The Ptolemaic Dynasty ruled Egypt and the surrounding Mediterranean areas for three centuries after the Macedonian empire collapsed until it was felled by the Romans in 30 BC.  During this time Alexandria served not only as its capital but also as a trading and intellectual hub of the Mediterranean and surrounding areas, reinforcing Hellenic influence in Egypt and the Middle East.

The Ptolemaic Dynasty and its associated Egyptian Kingdom/Empire was presided over by a Greek Macedonian family placed into power by Alexander toward the end of his reign in 323 BC.  Ptolemy I Soter, a former general in Alexander’s army, was the first ruler of the Ptolemaic dynasty and took the title of Pharaoh in 305/304 BC.  At its height, the Ptolemaic Kingdom extended as far west as Cyrene in Northern Africa and as far East as Mesopotamia and Babylon and despite its Egyptian heritage, reflected a predominantly Greek culture given the heritage of its rulers.

One of the lasting marks of the Ptolemaic Dynasty on not only Egypt but on the Western world as a whole was the construction and development of an academic center in its capital Alexandria commonly called the Royal Library of Alexandria.  The Ptolemaic rulers established and funded the Library along with its academics and scholars liberally, carrying forward the Hellenic tradition of academic scholarship and thirst for knowledge with them into Egypt.  It is said for example that the Ptolemaic rulers not only paid for travel, lodging and stipends for the academics, but their families as well, establishing an epicenter of learning and study that was unmatched for centuries.  As an intellectual center, Alexandria flourished for the next three centuries.  During this time the Ptolemaic rulers leveraged legal, financial and political means to bring scholars together and it became a place where not only ancient manuscripts were archived and translated, but also where prolific commentaries and other original works of scholarship were authored.

One of the great influential ancient works that came out of this intellectual hub was a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament called the Septuagint.  The work was commissioned by Ptolemy II (309 to 246 BC) in order to make the Old Testament more readily available to the general populace where Greek (Coptic Greek) was the lingua franca of the day.  This text had broad influence on not only the Judaic philosophical and theological development as this became one of the standard Old Testament texts, but it also influenced Christian development as well.[9]

One of the most notable philosophers and theologians that lived during the period of Alexandrian influence is the Jewish scholar and theologian Philo, or Philo of Alexandria (c 20 BC – 40 CE).  Philo is known primarily for his work in systematically synthesizing Greek philosophical traditions with Orthodox Judaism, particularly in his interpretations of the Books of Moses or the first five books of the Old Testament, sometimes referred to as the Pentateuch[10].  Although his most lasting contribution was his allegorical and classically Greek philosophical interpretation of the Pentateuch which was broadly adopted by the early Christian community, Philo also wrote on other topics such as the role of reason in the animal kingdom, the nature of God and Providence, and even a treatise called The Contemplative Life, or De Vita Contemplativa, which describes in detail the daily lives and rituals of members of a Jewish ascetic community living at the time in Egypt.  He also wrote extensively on Jewish law and custom, or Halakha.

Ironically, most of what we know about Philo comes from later Christian authors rather than the Jewish tradition, as Philo was looked upon by later philosophers and theologians as primarily Christian in belief and thought despite his clear Jewish heritage.  Jerome, the Roman Christian priest and theologian from the 4th century CE (c 347 – 420 CE) best known for his Latin translation the Bible, i.e. the Vulgate, for example even lists Philo as a Church Father.[11]

Philo was very well schooled in the Greek philosophical tradition and it is clear that he held Greek philosophers in very high esteem (Plato most notably) but his overarching premise was that Moses and his doctrines as laid out in the Pentateuch were the highest philosophy and that Hellenic philosophy, as well Hellenic law and epic poetry, all stemmed from a set of principles that were handed down to them by Moses.  His commentaries on the Pentateuch and other philosophical works, his interpretation of the Book of Genesis in particular, looked at the myth of creation and the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt through a symbolic and allegorical lens rather than a more literal interpretation of actual events, in very much the same way as many of the Greek philosophic schools looked at the mythical tradition passed down by Homer and Hesiod.

Philo was not necessarily significantly diverging from the views of some of the other Jewish scholars of his time however, as there were several Jewish historians and theologians before him who had argued that Moses was the source of Hellenistic philosophy and law – scholars such as the historian Artapanus and the philosopher Aristobulus of Paneas both from the 3rd and 2nd centuries BC for example.  So in this sense, Philo was merely carrying on and expanding upon the Hellenistic-Judeo synthetic tradition that had come before him rather than innovating along these lines, no doubt providing for a more deep and profound framework than those who came before him but consistent in basic approach nonetheless.

The Hellenistic theo-philosophies that evolved in the second half of the first millennium BC not only rested on a firmer rational foundation than the mythological and faith based traditions that preceded them, but were also designed as open and freely available faiths comprehensible and accessible to any person that could think or read, or even simply listen and understand, in contrast to the prevailing polytheistic and priesthood based traditions that held that access to the divine was the right of the exclusive few who had some sort of special access to the underlying truths and secrets of the universe.

In both the Stoic, Platonic and other Hellenic theo-philosophical traditions as they evolved during the few centuries leading up to the time of Philo, there existed then robust and consistent logical and rational frameworks that underpinned their respective metaphysics, as well as systems of ethics and morality that were all strewn together as cohesive belief systems, religions in fact in the modern sense of the term, except that they lacked an anthropomorphic conception of God as put forth in the Pentateuch which was a later primarily Christian development.  These traditions kept somewhat true to their polytheistic roots, despite their rejection of the prevailing religious establishment.[12]

The notion of god(s) in the Greek philosophical tradition, as reflected in their use of the term theos, did not deny the reality or existence of the different gods such as Zeus, Athena or Apollo, but rather asserted that each theos, each god, was a reflection or manifestation of a different aspect of the one single creative principle that sat behind the universe.  This principle can be gleaned even from the mythology of the Ancient Greeks, although an allegorical interpretation of the myths must be used in order to see this, i.e. the method used by the Stoics in interpreting the works of Homer and Hesiod and then in turn by Philo in his interpretation of the Old Testament.

This allegorical interpretation of myth was almost an a priori assumption to the majority of the philosophical and metaphysical development that came out of ancient Hellenistic culture, be it implied or explicitly called out in the various philosophical traditions[13].  Furthermore this polytheistic metaphysical context blended nicely with the Roman and Egyptian cultures which both had their own deep polytheistic roots, in turn facilitating the assimilation and integration of Hellenistic philosophical systems into Roman and Egyptian culture.

Poetry and mythology then, in particular the Homeric epics which encapsulated much of the Hellenistic mythos, were looked at as an integral part of the Hellenic intellectual framework, not cast aside as mere fantasy or as myth in the sense that we use the term today.  These epic poems and their respective cosmologies were looked at in a fundamentally allegorical context by the Greek philosophers, particularly when it came to interpreting the morals and ethical implications of the stories contained therein.

This synthesis of poetry, mythology and philosophy is probably best encapsulated in the work of Parmenides (early 5th century BC) in his poem On Nature, a work which had a profound influence on the Platonic and other Hellenic philosophical schools that came after him, even if only for its refutation as is the case in Plato’s dialogues, most notably the Parmenides which carries his name.  The poem narrates a mythical journey of the author to the halls of the Night led by the maiden daughters of the sun god Helios.  Passage through the gates is granted by the goddess Justice at the behest of the maiden gods which accompany Parmenides and the narrative that follows is a dialogue between him and the goddess Night about the nature of the universe and the paths of inquiry into truth[14].

On Nature proffers up two ways of inquiry for those seeking truth or knowledge; the first of which is called the Way of Conviction which describes “true reality” (alêtheia) or “what Is” (to aeon), and the second of which is described as the inferior way but a way nonetheless is the Way of Mortals or the way of myth and allegory.  The Way of Conviction is philosophical and metaphysical in content and it is this part of the work that influenced later Hellenic philosophical development, almost all of which is extant.  The second part of the work, the Way of Mortals, is only around 10% extant but it is clear that it outlined a mythical and cosmological narrative of the creation of the world, from its initial conception to the creation of the heavens and earth, all the way down to the creation of mankind and the animal kingdom, akin to the contents and approach of Moses’s Genesis or Hesiod’s Theogony from the Judeo-Christian and Greek mythological traditions respectively.[15]

On Nature then represents one of the earliest known attempts to bridge the gap between poetry & mythology and metaphysics & philosophy.  The form of the work itself, as presented as a classic Greek epic poem, reflects the core belief of the author in the power of the poetry and mythology as a means to communicating truth.  This cannot be denied.  So irrespective of contents, in much the same way that Plato (and Aristotle) held dialectic as the greatest and most powerful means for conveying truth, Parmenides held that poetry, and perhaps even mythology, was the most potent tool. 

Given that the poem does not exist in its source or complete form, particularly the latter part on the Way of Mortals, the interpretations of the work with respect to what Parmenides was actually trying to convey regarding the two seemingly contradictory means of inquiry is open to debate by later scholars and historians.  From Charlie’s perspective however, it was clear enough based upon what has survived, and the form of the medium itself, that Parmenides at least at some level intended to not only illustrate in toto what he thought was the true nature of the universe as juxtaposed against the backdrop of the prevalent mythos of the day (i.e. Way of Conviction), but also to state emphatically that a) the way of knowledge or reason is the higher and more clear path to knowledge and understanding, and b) that the way of myth and poetry, albeit leading to a lower form of understanding or realization, was also a relevant and alternate path, even complementary to a purely rational or philosophical approach.

The Way of Mortals portion of the work takes as its context and backdrop the prevailing Greek notions of mythos and theos, reflecting and interpreting the polytheistic and mythological traditions that had predominated Mediterranean civilizations for millennia, this much is clear. It draws from the same mythological traditions that Homer and Hesiod drew from, with an albeit distinct narrative.  Again from Charlie’s perspective, it would be very hard to argue that from Parmenides standpoint mythos did not have a significant role to play in the understanding of the world we lived in and the path of righteousness and virtue that people should follow, be it less true, or probably better put less accurate, than an intellectual framework based on the faculties of the mind and reason.

Outside of the relevance of the synthesis of myth and philosophy in On Nature, in the Way of Conviction Parmenides introduces the term logos to describe this rational foundation upon which knowledge and truth is to be known and understanding is to be gained.  Parmenides’s logos, as fleshed out even more in later Hellenistic philosophical development, particularly in the Stoic and Peripatetic schools, was looked at in juxtaposition to doxa, or “opinion”.  Although doxa is traditionally translated into the English word “opinion”, it more literally can be translated as “to expect” or “to seem”, in the Parmenides and Stoic context referring to the widely spread common mythological belief systems steeped as reflected in the poetic traditions of the time which had the appearance of truth.  Logos and in turn doxa as terms were picked up and expanded and expounded upon by later Hellenistic philosophic schools into broader metaphysical frameworks, but it is with Parmenides that the first lines, and terminology, with respect to logos and doxa are drawn[16].

For this view, that That Which Is Not exists, can never predominate. You must debar your thought from this way of search, nor let ordinary experience in its variety force you along this way, (namely, that of allowing) the eye, sightless as it is, and the ear, full of sound, and the tongue, to rule; but (you must) judge by means of the Reason (Logos) the much-contested proof which is expounded by me.[17]

In not only the Eleatic Philosophical school of which Parmenides was its founder, as well as the Platonic and Stoic philosophical traditions that arose somewhat after chronologically, detailed epistemological frameworks were developed that established the supremacy of reason and rational argument in the elucidation of truth and knowledge, moving well beyond even an allegorical interpretation of the Hellenic mythos as established by Parmenides.  They postulated, and even attempted to prove via the development of well-defined systems of logic and argument, that the one creative principle from which the pantheon of gods has and continues to emerge from was beyond the comprehension of the intellectual faculty of man, and that we must use reason, or logos, in order to begin to comprehend the nature of this all-pervading creative principle.

Plato’s Forms and his Allegory of the Cave in The Republic represent the most prolific and lasting metaphors and philosophical foundations for this notion, giving rise to the development of Neo-Platonism several centuries later after monotheism started to take root in the Mediterranean upon the broad adoption of Christianity.  In the Stoic tradition, there even developed a semantic and philosophical framework for perceiving and integrating mythology and poetry into its underlying metaphysics.  This integration rested on the underlying theory of language and poetry, where the term logos took on special significance to denote the underlying meaning implied by a word, in either spoken or written form.

Logos then, particularly in the work of Philo, takes on a crucial role in the evolution of philosophical development in the Ancient world, first in Ancient Greece and then spreading through the Mediterranean and into the Near East over the subsequent centuries as the Greeks and then the Romans established empires which provided the cultural foundations upon which these theo-philosophical developments could take place.

As the Stoics before him had looked to mythology and poetry not as truth in and of themselves but as allegories and stories from which truth, more specifically ethical and moral frameworks, could be gleaned, Philo latched onto this idea of logos, and wrapped his allegorical interpretation of the Old Testament books around it, developing an underlying, classically Hellenistic, metaphysics that underpinned the anthropomorphic concept of God that Moses laid out for the Jews in the Pentateuch.  Philo did espouse that the words of the Pentateuch were revelationary and of divine origin, but he also believed that the true understanding of the Books of Moses could only be had by looking past their literal interpretation and toward their allegorical meaning.  He even went so far as to debunk the anthropomorphic concept of God of the Jewish Old Testament, preferring instead a more Hellenistic theo-metaphysical framework where logos and theos, as put forth by the Eleatics, Stoics and Platonists before him, existed conceptually but the creator from which these principles originated was unknowable and indescribable[18].

For it is out of that essence that God created everything, without indeed touching it himself, for it was not lawful for the all-wise and all-blessed God to touch materials which were all misshapen and confused, but he created them by the agency of his incorporeal powers, of which the proper name is Ideas, which he so exerted that every genus received its proper form.[19]

In this way Philo attempted to try and put forth a Jewish philosophy that not only affirmed the place of the Books of Moses as the highest and first truth staying true to his Jewish heritage, but also to establish a richer metaphysical framework from within which the Jewish scriptures could be revealed, a conception of the world that was consistent with the scripture and was aligned with the rich Hellenistic philosophical tradition which was broadly accepted by the scholars and intellectuals of his time.  From Philo’s point of view, the Yahweh of the Old Testament was to be looked at in an allegorical context, and was beyond intellectual understanding.  But the stories, the mythology of the Old Testament, was true in the sense that it shed light on what Yahweh was like, how Yahweh wanted us to behave, and how mankind was to be viewed within the context of the universe as a whole.[20]

To Philo, the notion of logos represented the intellectual manifestation of the creative principle of the universe that emanated from the one and only God, the Yahweh who gave Moses the Ten Commandments.  But at the same time this creative principle was distinct from God in the sense that although knowledge of logos was possible to a certain degree, it did not necessarily imply that one comprehended, or had conceptually realized, God.  Logos in the sense that Philo used the term, had a clear ancient Greek philosophical heritage, particularly as reflected in the Stoic tradition, but Philo expanded and expounded upon its meaning within the context of his interpretations and commentaries of the Old Testament in order to connect its underlying mythology with the rational Hellenistic metaphysical frameworks that had taken root in the Mediterranean, providing for a rich framework that was then leveraged by the early Christian Church Fathers as one of the cornerstones of Christian theology[21].

Philo however went even further to try and synthesize directly Platonic ideas into his work and explicitly connected logos with Plato’s Forms, setting the stage for later Neo-Platonic and arguably even Gnostic development.  To Philo, logos represented the underlying Form of a thing in that it was from this Form that the mind or intellect could understand or know a thing.

It is manifest also, that that archetypal seal, which we call that world which is perceptible only to the intellect, must itself be the archetypal model, the Idea of Ideas, the Logos of God.[22]

Philo then established a metaphysical link between ancient Geek philosophy and Jewish monotheism, providing a sound metaphysical and philosophical foundation for Christianity in the centuries that followed, and setting the table for the broad adoption of Christianity that followed in the next few centuries.


[1] Aristotle tutored Alexander for at least a few years prior to his joing the army at age 15.

[2] There is some evidence that Hellenization under Alexander’s imperial efforts exerted an influence of the some of the Buddhist practices that developed in the years following Siddhartha’s death as well (Siddhartha Gautama Buddha (c 563 – 483 BC).  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_the_Great#Hellenization.

[3] There is some historical evidence that suggests that Indian sages and Vedic philosophers visited Ancient Greece in the first millennium BC, and certainly one could argue that some of the ideas put forth in Plato’s Dialogues have Indian counterparts, but this connection is loose at best and does not rule out by any means that the metaphysical constructs and frameworks developed independently from each other.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Upanishads for details on common dating of the Upanishadic sources as well as footnotes and references for further study on scholarship that links the Vedic and Hellenic philosophical traditions.

[4] The Academy that Plato had established in Athens persisted until 83 BC and although many of the influential Greek philosophers of this period did study and teach at the Academy, philosophical development occurred all throughout the Mediterranean during this period.

[5] From its founding, Stoic doctrine had a popular following throughout the Hellenistic period and the period of the Roman Empire which followed.  Some of the most notable figures during this time that were strongly influenced by Stoicism include the Roman philosopher and statesmen Seneca (4 BC-65 CE) who was a tutor and advisor of the Roman emperor Nero, the Roman/Latin philosopher and statesmen Cicero (106-43 BC), and the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121-180 CE).

[6] Not to be confused with the Zeno from Elea who was part of the Eleatic school started by Parmenides at the turn of the 5th century BC, which has a relationship with the Platonic school as reflected in establishment of at the very least an intellectual exchange between Parmenides and Socrates as represented in Plato’s Parmenides, a lengthy exchange between Parmenides and the younger Socrates where Socrates defends at length the Theory of Forms against a variety of intellectual attacks from the Eleatic school as narrated by Parmenides.  Socrates makes use of a series of what have come to be called “Deductions” to defend the Theory, a rational framework which later inspired Neo-Platonists such as Plotinus (c 204 – 270 CE) and later Proclus (412 – 485 CE) who saw in the Deductions the key to the hierarchical ontological structure of the universe.

[7] The notion and word religion actually has Latin roots, i.e. religio meaning respect for what is sacred or reverence for the gods, and had no counterpart in Greek, hence Aristotle’s notion of first philosophy.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religion#Etymology,

[8] Plato posited the creative force behind the universe as akin to a divine craftsman, but nowhere does he espouse the existence of or belief in an anthropomorphic God, this was a later development of Christianity as borrowed from the Judaic tradition from which it was born.

[9] As the story goes, the Septuagint (literally “seventy” in Latin) was crafted by seventy-two Jewish scholars, six from each of the 12 tribes of Israel.  It is not only quoted from in the Epistles of Paul in the New Testament, but also by some of the Apostolic Fathers in the first and second centuries CE as well as later by some of the Greek Church Fathers.  See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Septuagint for more details.

[10] The Pentateuch, or “five books”, is the name given to the five first books of the Old Testament; namely Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.

[11] Philo’s influence on Christianity is evidenced by his reference in the works of some of the most influential early Christian scholars and Church Fathers; authors such as the Christian apologist and philosopher Justin Martyr (100 – 165 CE), the Church Father Athenagoras (c 133 – 190), the famed Church Father and theologian Clement of Alexandria (c 150-215 CE), and Clement’s pupil and also a noted Church Father Origen also of Alexandria.

[12] Interestingly enough, even in the Old Testament, this anthropomorphic God, or Yahweh, had many names, speaking to the polytheistic roots of even the Judaic tradition in some sense.

[13] Although the Platonic tradition as reflected in his dialogues has many references as to an ongoing feud between poets and philosophers, alluding to fundamentally different world views of the two perspectives, Plato’s writings include many myths and allegories in and of themselves and his dialectic narrative form both speak to the relevance and importance of story, allegory and myth in his teaching philosophy.  See http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2012/entries/plato-rhetoric/ for a detailed look on the interpretation and view of rhetoric and poetry in Plato’s dialogues.

[14] On Nature is a traditional epic poem composed in hexameter verse of somewhere around 800 verses of which around one hundred and sixty verses survive, all of which come from the quotations of later authors speaking to the broad influence of the work.  The abode of Day and Night to which Parmenides alludes to as the destination of his journey and the place from within which the narrative takes place has its roots in Babylonian mythology as the abode of the sun and the place of judgment of souls after death.

[15] The Way of Conviction could be loosely categorized as Aristotle’s first philosophy, and the latter part of the Way of Mortals could be categorized as Aristotle’s natural philosophy, leaving aside the mythological components.

[16] Aristotle makes extensive use of the term endoxa, meaning “reliable opinion” from which his metaphysical foundation is constructed upon.  In other words, his method of elucidating truth and reality from falsehood starts with and builds upon endoxa, i.e. the sifting through of doxa to establish what can be more reasonably relied upon as starting points of truth and fact.  This is referred to sometimes as Endoxic method, see http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/aristotle/ for details.

[17] On Nature, B 7.1-8.2.  From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parmenides.

[18] Ironically enough, despite Philo’s belief that the Books of Moses represented divine revelation, and although it is believed he knew and could read Hebrew, it’s clear that his source material for the Old Testament was the Greek Septuagint, operating under the assumption that the Greek translation corresponded closely to its source Hebrew, which of course in many respects, be they subtle or direct, it did not.  See http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/12116-philo-judaeus.

[19] Philo, Legum Allegorium 1.329.

[20] Biblical Hebrew was written with consonants only, meaning that the name was written YHWH, the components of which are Y, meaning roughly “he”, and the consonantal root HWH, which is connected with acts of creation, or perhaps from the Arabic HWY which is connected with the concept of falling or causing to fall which would lead to Yahweh having storm god origins which is prevalent in some sections of the Old Testament.

[21] One could even make a strong case that Philo’s logos is the same principle that is laid out as the theological foundation of the teachings of Jesus as described in the first few verses of the Gospel According to John.

[22] Philo, De Opificio Mund, 25.

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