Review of the Ancient Philosophical Systems

Such is Platonism. "Out of Plato," says Ralph Waldo Emerson, "come all things that are still written and debated among men of thought." He absorbed the learning of his times — of Greece from Philolaus to Socrates; then of Pythagoras in Italy; then what he could procure from Egypt and the East. He was so broad that all philosophy, European and Asiatic, was in his doctrines; and to culture and contemplation he added the nature and qualities of the poet.

The followers of Plato generally adhered strictly to his psychological theories. Several, however, like xenocrates, ventured into bolder speculations. Speusippus, the nephew and successor of the great philosopher, was the author of the Numerical Analysis, a treatise on the Pythagorean numbers. Some of his speculations are not found in the written Dialogues; but as he was a listener to the unwritten lectures of Plato, the judgment of Enfield is doubtless correct, that he did not differ from his master. He was evidently, though not named, the antagonist whom Aristotle criticised, when professing to cite the argument of Plato against the doctrine of Pythagoras, that all things were in themselves numbers, or rather, inseparable from the idea of numbers. He especially endeavored to show that the Platonic doctrine of ideas

* See Thomas Taylor, "Eleusinian and Bacchic Mysteries," p. 47. New York: J. W. Bouton, 1875.

differed essentially from the Pythagorean, in that it presupposed numbers and magnitudes to exist apart from things. He also asserted that Plato taught that there could be no real knowledge, if the object of that knowledge was not carried beyond or above the sensible.

But Aristotle was no trustworthy witness. He misrepresented Plato, and he almost caricatured the doctrines of Pythagoras. There is a canon of interpretation, which should guide us in our examinations of every philosophical opinion: "The human mind has, under the necessary operation of its own laws, been compelled to entertain the same fundamental ideas, and the human heart to cherish the same feelings in all ages." It is certain that Pythagoras awakened the deepest intellectual sympathy of his age, and that his doctrines exerted a powerful influence upon the mind of Plato. His cardinal idea was that there existed a permanent principle of unity beneath the forms, changes, and other phenomena of the universe. Aristotle asserted that he taught that "numbers are the first principles of all entities." Ritter has expressed the opinion that the formula of Pythagoras should be taken symbolically, which is doubtless correct. Aristotle goes on to associate these numbers with the "forms" and "ideas" of Plato. He even declares that Plato said: "forms are numbers," and that "ideas are substantial existences — real beings." Yet Plato did not so teach. He declared that the final cause was the Supreme Goodness — to ajgaqovn. "Ideas are objects of pure conception for the human reason, and they are attributes of the Divine Reason."* Nor did he ever say that "forms are numbers." What he did say may be found in the Tim^us: "God formed things as they first arose according to forms and numbers."

It is recognized by modern science that all the higher laws of nature assume the form of quantitative statement. This is perhaps a fuller elaboration or more explicit affirmation of the Pythagorean doctrine. Numbers were regarded as the best representations of the laws of harmony which pervade the cosmos. We know too that in chemistry the doctrine of atoms and the laws of combination are actually and, as it were, arbitrarily defined by numbers. As Mr. W. Archer Butler has expressed it: "The world is, then, through all its departments, a living arithmetic in its development, a realized geometry in its repose."

The key to the Pythagorean dogmas is the general formula of unity in multiplicity, the one evolving the many and pervading the many. This is the ancient doctrine of emanation in few words. Even the apostle Paul accepted it as true. " Ex autou^, kai dij autou', kai ei" auto;n ta; pa^nta " — Out of him and through him and in him all things are. This, as we can see by the following quotation, is purely Hindu and Brahmanical:

"When the dissolution — Pralaya — had arrived at its term, the great Being — Para-Atma or Para-Purusha — the Lord existing through himself, out of whom and through

* Cousin, "History of Philosophy," I., ix.

whom all things were, and are and will be . . . resolved to emanate from his own substance the various creatures" (Manava-Dharma-Sastra, book i., slokas 6 and 7).

The mystic Decad 1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10 is a way of expressing this idea. The One is God, the Two, matter; the Three, combining Monad and Duad, and partaking of the nature of both, is the phenomenal world; the Tetrad, or form of perfection, expresses the emptiness of all; and the Decad, or sum of all, involves the entire cosmos. The universe is the combination of a thousand elements, and yet the expression of a single spirit — a chaos to the sense, a cosmos to the reason.

The whole of this combination of the progression of numbers in the idea of creation is Hindu. The Being existing through himself, Swayambhu or Swayambhuva, as he is called by some, is one. He emanates from himself the creative faculty, Brahma or Purusha (the divine male), and the one becomes Two; out of this Duad, union of the purely intellectual principle with the principle of matter, evolves a third, which is Viradj, the phenomenal world. It is out of this invisible and incomprehensible trinity, the Brahmanic Trimurty, that evolves the second triad which represents the three faculties — the creative, the conservative, and the transforming. These are typified by Brahma, Vishnu, and Siva, but are again and ever blended into one. Unity, Brahma, or as the Vedas called him, Tridandi, is the god triply manifested, which gave rise to the symbolical Aum or the abbreviated Trimurty. It is but under this trinity, ever active and tangible to all our senses, that the invisible and unknown Monas can manifest itself to the world of mortals. When he becomes Sarira, or he who puts on a visible form, he typifies all the principles of matter, all the germs of life, he is Purusha, the god of the three visages, or triple power, the essence of the Vedic triad. "Let the Brahmas know the sacred Syllable (Aum), the three words of the Savitri, and read the Vedas daily" (Manu, book iv., sloka 125).

"After having produced the universe, He whose power is incomprehensible vanished again, absorbed in the Supreme

Soul Having retired into the primitive darkness, the great Soul remains within the unknown, and is void of all form

"When having again reunited the subtile elementary principles, it introduces itself into either a vegetable or animal seed, it assumes at each a new form."

"It is thus that, by an alternative waking and rest, the Immutable Being causes to revive and die eternally all the existing creatures, active and inert" (Manu, book i., sloka 50, and others).

He who has studied Pythagoras and his speculations on the Monad, which, after having emanated the Duad retires into silence and darkness, and thus creates the Triad can realize whence came the philosophy of the great Samian Sage, and after him that of Socrates and Plato.

Speusippus seems to have taught that the psychical or thumetic soul was immortal as well as the spirit or rational soul, and further on we will show his reasons. He also — like Philolaus and Aristotle, in his disquisitions upon the soul — makes of ^ther an element; so that there were five principal elements to correspond with the five regular figures in Geometry. This became also a doctrine of the Alexandrian school.* Indeed, there was much in the doctrines of the Philaletheans which did not appear in the works of the older Platonists, but was doubtless taught in substance by the philosopher himself, but with his usual reticence was not committed to writing as being too arcane for promiscuous publication. Speusippus and Xenocrates after him, held, like their great master, that the anima mundi, or world-soul, was not the Deity, but a manifestation. Those philosophers never conceived of the One as an animate nature. + The original One did not exist, as we understand the term. Not till he had united with the many — emanated existence (the monad and duad) was a being produced. The tivmion , honored — the something manifested, dwells in the centre as in the circumference, but it is only the reflection of the Deity — the World-Soul. X In this doctrine we find the spirit of esoteric Buddhism.

A man's idea of God, is that image of blinding light that he sees reflected in the concave mirror of his own soul, and yet this is not, in very truth, God, but only His reflection. His glory is there, but, it is the light of his own Spirit that the man

* "Theol. Arithme." p. 62, "On Pythag. Numbers." + Plato, "Parmenid." 141 E. X See Stobreus' "Ecl," i., 862.

sees, and it is all he can bear to look upon. The clearer the mirror, the brighter will be the divine image. But the external world cannot be witnessed in it at the same moment. In the ecstatic Yogin, in the illuminated Seer, the spirit will shine like the noonday sun; in the debased victim of earthly attraction, the radiance has disappeared, for the mirror is obscured with the stains of matter. Such men deny their God, and would willingly deprive humanity of soul at one blow.

No God, No Soul? Dreadful, annihilating thought! The maddening nightmare of a lunatic — Atheist; presenting before his fevered vision, a hideous, ceaseless procession of sparks of cosmic matter created by no one; self-appearing, self-existent, and self-developing; this Self no Self, for it is nothing and nobody; floating onward from nowhence, it is propelled by no Cause, for there is none, and it rushes nowhither. And this in a circle of Eternity blind, inert, and — Causeless. What is even the erroneous conception of the Buddhistic Nirvana in comparison! The Nirvana is preceded by numberless spiritual transformations and metempsychoses, during which the entity loses not for a second the sense of its own individuality, and which may last for millions of ages before the Final No-Thing is reached.

Though some have considered Speusippus as inferior to Aristotle, the world is nevertheless indebted to him for defining and expounding many things that Plato had left obscure in his doctrine of the Sensible and Ideal. His maxim was "The Immaterial is known by means of scientific thought, the Material by scientific perception."*

Xenocrates expounded many of the unwritten theories and teachings of his master. He too held the Pythagorean doctrine, and his system of numerals and mathematics in the highest estimation. Recognizing but three degrees of knowledge—Thought, Perception, and Envisagement (or knowledge by Intuition), he made the former busy itself with all that which is beyond the heavens; Perception with things in the heavens; Intuition with the heavens themselves.

We find again these theories, and nearly in the same language in the Manava-Dharma-Sastra, when speaking of the creation of man: "He (the Supreme) drew from his own essence the immortal breath which perisheth not in the being, and to this soul of the being he gave the Ahancara (conscience of the ego) sovereign guide." Then he gave to that soul of the being (man) the intellect formed of the three qualities, and the five organs of the outward perception."

These three qualities are Intelligence, Conscience, and Will; answering to the Thought, Perception, and Envisagement of Xenocrates. The relation of numbers to Ideas was developed by him further than by Speusippus, and he surpassed Plato in his definition of the doctrine of Indivisible Magnitudes. Reducing them to their ideal primary elements, he demonstrated that every figure and form originated out of the smallest indivisible line. That Xenocrates held the same

theories as Plato in relation to the human soul (supposed to be a number) is evident, though Aristotle contradicts this, like every other teaching of this philosopher. + This is conclusive evidence that many of Plato's doctrines were delivered orally, even were it shown that Xenocrates and not Plato was the first to originate the theory of indivisible magnitudes. He derives the Soul from the first Duad, and calls it a self-moved number. J Theophrastus remarks that he entered and eliminated this Soul-theory more than any other Platonist. He built upon it the cosmological doctrine, and proved the necessary existence in every part of the universal space of a successive and progressive series of animated and thinking though spiritual beings. § The Human Soul with him is a compound of the most spiritual properties of the Monad and the Duad, possessing the highest principles of both. If, like Plato and Prodicus, he refers to the Elements as to Divine Powers, and calls them gods, neither himself nor others connected any anthropomorphic idea with the appellation. Krische remarks that he called them gods only that these elementary powers should not be confounded with the demons of the nether world** (the Elementary Spirits). As the Soul of the World permeates the whole Cosmos, even beasts must have in them something divine.++ This, also, is

J Appendix to "Timxus."

** Krische, "Forsch.," p. 322, etc. ++ Clem., "Alex. Stro," v., 590.

the doctrine of Buddhists and the Hermetists, and Manu endows with a living soul even the plants and the tiniest blade of grass. —

The demons, according to this theory, are intermediate beings between the divine perfection and human sinfulness,* and he divides them into classes, each subdivided in many others. But he states expressly that the individual or personal soul is the leading guardian d^mon of every man, and that no d^mon has more power over us than our own. Thus the Daimonion of Socrates is the god or Divine Entity which inspired him all his life. it depends on man either to open or close his perceptions to the Divine voice. Like Speusippus he ascribed immortality to the fuch, psychical body, or irrational soul. But some Hermetic philosophers have taught that the soul has a separate continued existence only so long as in its passage through the spheres any material or earthly particles remain incorporated in it; and that when absolutely purified, the latter are annihilated, and the quintessence of the soul alone becomes blended with its divine spirit (the Rational), and the two are thenceforth one.

Zeller states that Xenocrates forbade the eating of animal food, not because he saw in beasts something akin to man, as he ascribed to them a dim consciousness of God, but, "for the opposite reason, lest the irrationality of animal souls might

thereby obtain a certain influence over us."+ But we believe that it was rather because, like Pythagoras, he had had the Hindu sages for his masters and models. Cicero depicted Xenocrates utterly despising everything except the highest virtue;}: and describes the stainlessness and severe austerity of his character.§ "To free ourselves from the subjection of sensuous existence, to conquer the Titanic elements in our terrestrial nature through the Divine one, is our problem." Zeller makes him say: ** "Purity, even in the secret longings of our heart, is the greatest duty, and only philosophy and the initiation into the Mysteries help toward the attainment of this object."

Crantor, another philosopher associated with the earliest days of Plato's Academy, conceived the human soul as formed out of the primary substance of all things, the Monad or One, and the Duad or the Two. Plutarch speaks at length of this philosopher, who like his master believed in souls being distributed in earthly bodies as an exile and punishment.

Herakleides, though some critics do not believe him to have strictly adhered to Plato's primal philosophy,++ taught the same ethics. Zeller presents him to us imparting, like Higetas and Egphantus, the Pythagorean doctrine of the diurnal rotation of the earth and the immobility of the fixed

+ "Plato und die Alt. Akademie."

** "Plato und die Alt. Akademie." ++ Ed. Zeller, "Philos. der Griech."

stars, but adds that he was ignorant of the annual revolution of the earth around the sun, and of the heliocentric system.* But we have good evidence that the latter system was taught in the Mysteries, and that Socrates died for atheism, i.e., for divulging this sacred knowledge. Herakleides adopted fully the Pythagorean and Platonic views of the human soul, its faculties and its capabilities. He describes it as a luminous, highly ethereal essence. He affirms that souls inhabit the milky way before descending "into generation" or sublunary existence. His demons or spirits are airy and vaporous bodies.

In the Epinomis is fully stated the doctrine of the Pythagorean numbers in relation to created things. As a true Platonist, its author maintains that wisdom can only be attained by a thorough inquiry into the occult nature of the creation; it alone assures us an existence of bliss after death. The immortality of the soul is greatly speculated upon in this treatise; but its author adds that we can attain to this knowledge only through a complete comprehension of the numbers; for the man, unable to distinguish the straight line from a curved one will never have wisdom enough to secure a mathematical demonstration of the invisible, i.e., we must assure ourselves of the objective existence of our soul (astral body) before we learn that we are in possession of a divine and immortal spirit. Iamblichus says the same thing; adding, moreover, that it is a secret belonging to the highest initiation.

The Divine Power, he says, always felt indignant with those "who rendered manifest the composition of the icostagonus," viz., who delivered the method of inscribing in a sphere the dodecahedron. t

The idea that "numbers" possessing the greatest virtue, produce always what is good and never what is evil, refers to justice, equanimity of temper, and everything that is harmonious. When the author speaks of every star as an individual soul, he only means what the Hindu initiates and the Hermetists taught before and after him, viz.: that every star is an independent planet, which, like our earth, has a soul of its own, every atom of matter being impregnated with the divine influx of the soul of the world. It breathes and lives; it feels and suffers as well as enjoys life in its way. What naturalist is prepared to dispute it on good evidence? Therefore, we must consider the celestial bodies as the images of gods; as partaking of the divine powers in their substance; and though they are not immortal in their soul-entity, their agency in the economy of the universe is entitled to divine honors, such as we pay to minor gods. The idea is plain, and one must be malevolent indeed to misrepresent it. if the author of Epinomis places these fiery gods higher than the animals, plants, and even mankind, all of which, as earthly creatures, are assigned by him a lower place, who can prove him wholly wrong? one must needs go deep indeed into the profundity of the abstract metaphysics of the old t One of the five solid figures in Geometry.

philosophies, who would understand that their various embodiments of their conceptions are, after all, based upon an identical apprehension of the nature of the First Cause, its attributes and method.

Again when the author of Epinomis locates between these highest and lowest gods (embodied souls) three classes of demons, and peoples the universe with invisible beings, he is more rational than our modern scientists, who make between the two extremes one vast hiatus of being, the playground of blind forces. Of these three classes the first two are invisible; their bodies are pure ether and fire (planetary spirits); the demons of the third class are clothed with vapory bodies; they are usually invisible, but sometimes making themselves concrete become visible for a few seconds. These are the earthly spirits, or our astral souls.

it is these doctrines, which, studied analogically, and on the principle of correspondence, led the ancient, and may now lead the modern Philaletheian step by step toward the solution of the greatest mysteries. On the brink of the dark chasm separating the spiritual from the physical world stands modern science, with eyes closed and head averted, pronouncing the gulf impassable and bottomless, though she holds in her hand a torch which she need only lower into the depths to show her her mistake. But across this chasm, the patient student of Hermetic philosophy has constructed a bridge.

In his Fragments of Science Tyndall makes the following sad confession: "If you ask me whether science has solved, or is likely in our day to solve the problem of this universe, I must shake my head in doubt." If moved by an afterthought, he corrects himself later, and assures his audience that experimental evidence has helped him to discover, in the opprobrium-covered matter, the "promise and potency of every quality of life," he only jokes. It would be as difficult for Professor Tyndall to offer any ultimate and irrefutable proofs of what he asserts, as it was for Job to insert a hook into the nose of the leviathan.

To avoid confusion that might easily arise by the frequent employment of certain terms in a sense different from that familiar to the reader, a few explanations will be timely. We desire to leave no pretext either for misunderstanding or misrepresentation. Magic may have one signification to one class of readers and another to another class. We shall give it the meaning which it has in the minds of its Oriental students and practitioners. And so with the words Hermetic Science, Occultism, Hierophant, Adept, Sorcerer, etc.; there has been little agreement of late as to their meaning. Though the distinctions between the terms are very often insignificant — merely ethnic — still, it may be useful to the general reader to know just what that is. We give a few alphabetically.

^THROBACY, is the Greek name for walking or being lifted in the air; levitation, so called, among modern spiritualists. It may be either conscious or unconscious; in the one case, it is magic; in the other, either disease or a power which requires a few words of elucidation.

0 0

Post a comment