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.