Sunday, 24 November 2013

The divine Iamblichus: Offering to the Gods, a Neoplatonic perspective

This is what Julian had to say about the stature of the man named Iamblichus, the man of Gods,

Thus much, my dear Sallust, upon the threefold operation of the deity have I ventured to write for you, in about three nights' space, having gone over the subject in my memory as far as it was possible: since what I had previously written to you "upon the Saturnalia" did not prove entirely labour thrown away. But on the same subject you will obtain more complete and more abstruse information by consulting the works upon it composed by the divine Iamblichus: you will find there the extreme limit of human wisdom attained. May the mighty Sun grant me to attain to no less knowledge of himself, and to teach it publicly to all, and privately to such as are worthy to receive it: and as long as the god grants this to us, let us consult in common his well-beloved Iamblichus; out of whose abundance a few things, that have come into my mind, I have here set down. That no other person will treat of this subject more perfectly than he has done, I am well aware; not even though he should expend much additional labour in making new discoveries in the research; for in all probability he will go astray from the most correct conception of the nature of the god. It were perhaps an idle attempt (if I were writing this discourse for the sake of giving instruction) for me to treat of it at all after what that philosopher has done; but inasmuch as it is my wish only to compose a hymn of thanksgiving in honour of the god, I have deemed it quite sufficient  to discourse to the best of my ability concerning his nature. I do not think I have wasted words to no purpose: the maxim, "Sacrifice to the immortal gods according to thy means," I accept as applying not merely to burnt-offerings, but also to our praises addressed unto the gods. I pray for the third time, in return for this my good intention, the Sun lord of the universe to be propitious to me, and to bestow on me a virtuous life, a more perfect understanding, and a superhuman intellect, and a very easy release from the trammels of life at the time appointed: and after that release, an ascension up to himself, and an abiding place with him, if possible, for all time to come; or if that be too great a recompense for my past life, many and long-continued revolutions around his presence! 
- Julian, Upon the Sovereign Sun

For a fuller understanding of the wisdom of this man you need to read his dialogues with Porphyry which is very well documented in the work of this independent scholar Edward P.Butler.

Offering to the Gods: A Neoplatonic Perspective 

After reading the text fully I have discussed the main themes discussed by Porphyry and Iamblichus and the profound wisdom that Iamblichus has shown in his replies to Porphyry which is in full agreement with my views. Its important to first read the author's paper and then read the below passage.

Ritual is important for religion as experimental physics is important for physics which means ritual deals with the practical knowledge and methodologies through which religious ideas and beliefs are tested to see whether the beliefs and ideas is in accordance with the nature of reality out there, even though rituals exists in all religions it is explicitly practised and is given much importance in pagan religions and ritual was the only means to achieve oneness with God.

The author gives us a perspective of a ritual through the eyes of a Neoplatonist and explains the importance of Gods in achieving the higher good.

The names of Gods:

The author compares the different views on the significance of the names of the Gods. Porphyry is of the opinion that the language and the names of gods of a particular culture is insignificant means the names of gods can be translated to different languages where the syllable of the name of the Gods changes and Porphyry thinks that the ritual will work and will transcend us independent of the language in which the names of Gods are spoken.

Iamblichus replies to Porphyry that the names of gods carry a supra-rational efficacy in the cosmos and that they have high significance in ritual worship, this was the view adopted by Neoplatonists which in my opinion is the correct view because the names of Gods seems to have a direct effect on nature, means it has an efficacy, rituals performed uttering the names of Gods show empirical results where as rituals performed without uttering the names of Gods have no effects on nature.

Is it simply a means of ascent to a universal and transcendent divine that is either undifferentiated or not differentiated in a manner coinciding with the manifest differences between cultures?

Each culture has its own myth and its own pantheon as to how the cosmos got originated and manifested in its various forms. Even though the theory is the same, the names and the description of the Gods surrounding a culture is different from one another. For example, the Buddhists call the masculine aspect of God as Samanthabhadra and the feminine aspect of it as Samantabhadri, The Vedic Aryans call them as Savithru and Gayatri respectively, the Valentinians called it the Pistis Sophia and the Holy Father, now the question arises are each culture talking of and describing the same Gods or are they talking of different Gods coming from their own respective pantheon and if so which pantheon represents the manifested reality out there?

I think the fact that different cultures have discovered these myths on their own it is not wise to dogmatically assert that only one pantheon represent the manifested reality out there and the other pantheon is false or even to say the different cultures are talking about the same pantheon, instead it should be realized that not only the rituals of our nation work and the Gods of our pantheon are true but also it must be realized that the rituals of different cultures and their pantheon works indeed which philosophically we can term it as the divine Logos the working principle of the cosmos while simultaneously preserving and giving importance to the specific rituals and specific Gods discovered by each culture because only through this path of the Gods we can transcend the manifested reality and achieve the non-dualistic unity.

So even though the manifested reality appears differently for different cultures in truth it is undifferentiated which means the rituals and the pantheon of different cultures indeed works and this was the kind of liberal view adopted by Neoplatonists.

Is engagement with this culturally determinate material perhaps even a hindrance to attaining this transcendent viewpoint?

No, actually it is a ladder for attaining this transcendent viewpoint which means the pantheon of Gods in each of these traditions or cultures are as essential and important for achieving unity, actually it is the only true path for perfection, the Gods are real and they do exist.

The difference between private worship and public or mass worship like in Churches and temples:

One must ‘‘stand aside from all other pursuits’’ in order that ‘‘alone, one may associate with the solitary deity, and not attempt to join oneself to the One by means of multiplicity. For a person like this accomplishes the very opposite, and separates himself from the Gods.’’ - Proclus

Its important to worship privately and silently and the aim should be towards the subordination of ourselves to the Gods for it is the right way to approach the Gods and receive illumination from them and the aim of worship should never be to fulfil the need of Gods for they have no needs and should never be to fulfil one's own external needs for we curse gods when they give the very opposite of what we want and move ourselves away from the Gods without understanding it is impossible to blow wind towards the north and the south at the same time for sailors who pray for wind in the opposite directions respectively.

The importance of performing rituals with high respect and care:

‘‘just as it is impious to ill-treat the statues of the Gods, in the same way it is not righteous to err regarding names.’’

- Proclus

"He[Simplicius] spells out what should be determinative for our attitude toward the Gods explicitly in three theses: the Gods exist, they exercise forethought, and they do so in a way that is just and in accordance with correct reason."

One should not err while uttering the names of Gods in the ritual and shouldn't do carelessly.

The importance of Philosophy and Theology:

"A balance was thus struck such that the primacy of the theological discourse protected it from rationalizing ‘‘demythologization’’ while the universalizing philosophical discourse, equally divine in origin, held its ground against the absorption of philosophy by any particular, dogmatic theology."

It is wrong to study the pagan religions purely from a philosophical perspective for the pagans gave as much importance to rituals and the Gods and they made sure that the intense rationalization or intellectualization didn't suppressed the importance of the Gods and their rituals without which there is no philosophy.

There are a lot of stupid people out there who don't understand that Advaita Vedanta, Buddhism, Gnostic Christianity, Neoplatonism etc takes the existence of Gods very seriously and it is impossible to separate their philosophy from their Gods, they are inseparable because for them the Gods are real and they are everywhere and it is through these Gods they achieved oneness with the Cosmos.

Vedas are indigenous to India


"And what your European pundits say about the Aryans swooping down from some foreign land, snatching away the lands of the aborigines and settling in India by exterminating them, is all pure nonsense, foolish talk! In what Veda, in what Sukta do you find that the Aryans came into India from a foreign country? Where do you get the idea that they slaughtered the wild aborigines? What do you gain by talking such nonsense? Strange that our Indian scholars, too, say amen to them; and all these monstrous lies are being taught to our boys!... Whenever the Europeans find an opportunity, they exterminate the aborigines and settle down with ease and comfort on their lands; and therefore they think the Aryans must have done the same!... But where is your proof? Guess work? Then keep your fanciful ideas to yourself. I strongly protested against these ideas at the Paris Congress. I have been talking with the Indian and European savants on the subject, and hope to raise many objections to this theory in detail, when time permits. And this I say to you–to our pundits–also, ‘You are learned men, hunt up your old books and scriptures, please, and draw your own conclusions.’"

- Swami Vivekananda

Professor Nicholas Kazanas statements are correct even though his understanding of the Vedic texts are not up to the mark with the more esoteric genuine interpretations of the traditional Indian Scholars. He is absolutely right when he said that I got interested in the Upanishads but later I found out that what was there in the Upanishads existed in the Vedas too. What most people fail to understand is that Upanishads are not the end of the Vedas and the start of a new period where they somehow throw away the rituals and gods in the Vedas and turn towards a more rational philosophical approach to the divine instead Upanishads are the ending message of the Vedas. Both the Vedas(rituals and gods) and the Upanishads should be taken together in a full context only then you will really understand the true doctrine of our ancients.

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad

III-ix-1: Then Vidagdha, the son of Sakala, asked him. ‘How many gods are there, Yajnavalkya ?’ Yajnavalkya decided it through this (group of Mantras known as) Nivid (saying), ‘As many as are indicated in the Nivid of the Visvadevas – three hundred and three, and three thousand and three’. ‘Very well’, said Sakalya, ‘how many gods exactly are there, Yajnavalkya ?’ ‘Thirty-three’. ‘Very well’, said the other, ‘how many gods exactly are there, Yajnavalkya ?’ ‘six’. ‘Very well’, said Sakalya, ‘how many gods exactly are there, Yajnavalkya ?’ ‘Three’. ‘Very well’, said the other, ‘how many gods exactly are there, Yajnavalkya ?’ ‘Two’. ‘Very well’, said Sakalya, ‘how many gods exactly are there, Yajnavalkya ?’ ‘One and a half’. ‘Very well’, said Sakalya, ‘how many gods exactly are there, Yajnavalkya ?’ ‘One’. ‘Very well’, said Sakalya, ‘which are those three hundred and three and three thousand and three ?’

III-ix-2: Yajnavalkya said, ‘these are but the manifestation of them, but there are only thirty-three gods.’ ‘Which are those thirty-three ?’ ‘The eight Vasus, the eleven Rudras and the twelve Adityas – these are thirty-one and Indra and Prajapati make up the thirty-three’.

III-ix-3: ‘Which are the Vasus /’ ‘Fire, the earth, air, the sky, the sun, heaven, the moon and the stars – these are the Vasus, for in these all this is placed; therefore they are called Vasus.’

III-ix-4: ‘Which are the Rudras ?’ ‘The ten organs in the human body, with the mind as the eleventh. When they depart from this mortal body, they make (one’s relatives) weep. Because they then make them weep, therefore they are called Rudras.’

III-ix-5: ‘Which are the Adityas ?’ ‘The twelve months (are parts) of a year; these are the Adityas, for they go taking all this with them. Because they go taking all this with them, therefore they are called Adityas.’

III-ix-6: ‘Which is Indra, and which is Prajapati ?’ ‘The cloud itself is Indra, and the sacrifice is Prajapati’. ‘Which is the cloud ?’ ‘Thunder (strength).’ ‘Which is the sacrifice ?’ ‘Animals’.

III-ix-7: ‘Which are the six (gods) ?’ ‘Fire, the earth, air, the sky, the sun, and heaven – these are the six. Because all those (gods) are (comprised in) these six.’

III-ix-8: ‘Which are the three gods ?’ ‘These three worlds alone, because in these all those gods are comprised.’ ‘Which are the two gods ?’ ‘Matter and the vital force.’ ‘Which are the one and a half ?’ ‘This (air) that blows.’

III-ix-9: ‘Regarding this some say, ‘Since the air blows as one substance, how can it be one and a half ?’ ‘ It is one and a half because through its presence all this attains surpassing glory’. ‘Which is the one god ?’ ‘The vital force (Hiranyagarbha); it is Brahman, which is called Tyat (that).’

These gods should not be confused with the forces of nature instead they are anthropomorphic beings who exist in the Pleroma and this world is just a shadow image of the real things, the thing in itself that exists in the Pleroma or the Agnisoma Mandala. There are two ways to percieve this universe one is Bahirmukh and the other one is Antharmukh. Bahirmukh is the normal perception, this is the world as it appears to us, the world of phenomena, the world of science and Antharmukh is the world as it really exists independent of us, the thing in itself, the world of noumena. Let's keep science and religion separate, science is one thing and religion is another do not get confused with both of them.

The first thing that is taught in the Upanishads is this to understand the difference between Bahirmukh and Anthurmukh and only after you have attained the ability to perceive the world by being Antharmukh you will have the authority to study the next stage of philosophical scriptures. Only such persons are true philosophers because they know the things as it exists and not how it appears to us and when we ask what is this world made of they will not quarrel among themselves as the world is made of this or that, they will firmly assert that the world is made of 'That' which is beyond reason and sight but accessible only through experiential knowledge.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Valentinian Gnosticism and Classical Samkhya : A Thematic and Structural comparison

Just past year I posted a post titled "Who is our true God and what is our true religion?" where I had tried to explain the astonishing similarities between Valentinianism and the other Indian traditions especially the Samkhya philosophical system. Well, even the church fathers knew that Valentinus had tried to amalgamate oriental speculations about the divine of the most fantastic kind into Christianity.

It seems I wasn't alone in trying to know as to how did Paul and the Paulinists had come up with a soteriology exactly identical to the highest esoteric interpretation of the Indian traditional philosophical systems. It seems scholars of the past decades were very much aware of this problem which is an unsolved mystery to this day.

Valentinian Gnosticism and Classical Sāṃkhya: A Thematic and Structural Comparison

Stephen A. Kent, 1980
Philosophy East and West 

This problem or mystery has been burning in my heart since the time I acquainted myself with the Pauline letters and after some research I have reached the conclusion that the mystery is not with Valentinus or Basilides neither with Saint Paul. The mystery is with Christ himself. Who is Christ? Is he one among the Aeons in the Pleroma? Was he sent by Yahweh or Abraxas?
"Afterwards broke out the heretic Basilides. He affirms that there is a supreme Deity, by name Abraxas, by whom was created Mind, which in Greek he calls Νοῦς; that thence sprang the Word; that of Him issued Providence, Virtue, and Wisdom; that out of these subsequently were made Principalities, powers, and Angels; that there ensued infinite issues and processions of angels; that by these angels 365 heavens were formed, and the world, in honour of Abraxas, whose name, if computed, has in itself this number. Now, among the last of the angels, those who made this world, he places the God of the Jews latest, that is, the God of the Law and of the Prophets, whom he denies to be a God, but affirms to be an angel. To him, he says, was allotted the seed of Abraham, and accordingly he it was who transferred the sons of Israel from the land of Egypt into the land of Canaan; affirming him to be turbulent above the other angels, and accordingly given to the frequent arousing of seditions and wars, yes, and the shedding of human blood. Christ, moreover, he affirms to have been sent, not by this maker of the world, but by the above-named Abraxas; and to have come in a phantasm, and been destitute of the substance of flesh: that it was not He who suffered among the Jews, but that Simon was crucified in His stead: whence, again, there must be no believing on him who was crucified, lest one confess to having believed on Simon. Martyrdoms, he says, are not to be endured. The resurrection of the flesh he strenuously impugns, affirming that salvation has not been promised to bodies."

“From the unbegotten Father, Nous was engendered first; from Nous was engendered the Logos; from the Logos, Phronesis; from Phronesis, Sophia; from Sophia and Dynamos [were engendered] the Virtues, the Powers and the Angels whom he named the first ones, and it was from them that the first heaven was created. From these angels came other angels who made a second heaven similar to the first. From these angels came [still] others, in their turn and in the same fashion, in the image of the superior angels, and these angels formed a third heaven. From this third heaven was born a fourth, and thus there followed, in an analogous fashion, the Princes, Angels and 365 heavens. It is from this number of heavens that the year has 365 days. The last heaven, the one that we see, is filled by the angels who made everything that is in the world. They shared among them the earth and all the people who are on it. Their leader is the God of the Jews. This last one, because he wanted the other people to be subjected to his people, that is to say, to the Jews, the other princes raised themselves up against him and paralyzed his plans. This was why the other people were animated by hostile sentiments with respect to his people. But having seen their corruption, the unbegotten and innumerable Father sent his unique Son, Nous, who is called Christ, to deliver those who believe in him from the domination of those who made the world. He manifested himself to their people as a man on the earth and accomplished the powers. But it wasn’t he who suffered; it was a certain Simon of Cyrene who was forced to carry his cross to its place. He was crucified by error and unconsciously, after which he was changed by Jesus so that he would be taken for him. Jesus took the form of Simon and mocked them, because he remained nearby. He was the incorporeal power and the unbegotten Nous; this is why he was able to transform himself at will, and he thus returned to the one who had sent him, mocking those who had not been able to keep him, and he was invisible to all. Those who knew this were delivered from the Prince and Creator of this world. It isn’t the crucified to whom one must confess, but he who was crucified in appearance, that is to say, Jesus, who had been sent by the Father to, by this action, destroy the works of those who had made the world. Thus the one who confesses to the crucified man is a slave to the power of those who created the world of bodies; on the contrary, the others are free; they know how the unbegotten Father had spared them all. But redemption is only extended to the soul, because the body can only dissolve itself in conformity with its nature. . . . Likewise, the prophecies came from their leaders who made the world, the Law, in particular, from the one who brought the people out of Egypt. Sacrifices to the gods had to be scorned and held as nothing, but they took part in them without scruple; likewise they were not bothered by any action or the exercise of any sensual pleasure. They likewise practiced magic, the evocation of ghosts and all of the other magic tricks; they invented all sorts of names for angels, and put some in the first heaven and some in the second, and they applied themselves to distinguishing the names, principles, angels and powers of their (...) 365 heavens. It was thus, for example, that the world to which the Savior descended and from which he ascended was called Kaulakau. The one who knew all the angels and their origin became invisible and ungraspable to all the angels and the powers, in the manner of Kaulakau. Just as the Christ was unknown to all, they must not be recognized by anyone, they are invisible and unknowable to all, whereas they know all the beings and can cross them all. ‘You know all, but no one knows you!’ – such is their formula [...] Few people are capable of this knowledge, one in a thousand, ten in ten thousand. They are no longer Jews, they say, and not even Christians. It is forbidden to reveal their secrets; one must keep them in silence. They determined the site of the 365 heavens as if they were mathematicians. They borrowed their theories and applied them to the particular requirements of their doctrine. Their leader is Abraxas; the numeric value of the letters of this name is 365.”[7] 
          - Ireneaus

Purusha and Prakrithi reside in the Agnishoma Mandala or the Pleroma and the master of this Mandala is Savithru (the unbegotten Father) which the philosophers of Samkhya didn't knew. If seen in this light both Valentinianism and the Vedantic systems is essentially monistic in nature so much so that they both teach us to go beyond the Father to know the unity or Brahman.

My position is quite clear in this issue that both Paul and the Indian seers had true revelations of the divine and that they both came up with an identical soteriology almost independent of another. 

"It is reasonable to agree that when there is a core agreement in the religious experiences of people in different times, places, and traditions, and when they have the same rational interpretations of the experiences; it makes sense to conclude that they are all in contact with some objective aspect of reality, unless there is positive evidence otherwise."