Sources of Pluralistic Thought Greece and India

Hindu scriptures are collections of such a-paurusheya wisdom acquired through the ages by various sages through their realized knowledge of God. It is in this sense that the Vedas - the greatest of all Hindu scriptures - are regarded as a-paurusheya. The sages themselves - the authors of the Vedic hymns - are human and historical, but the knowledge that they realized and passed on to future generations is a-

paurusheya. This knowledge includes laws governing the cosmos which are clearly a-paurusheya - being not man originated; their realization may be the work of a human sage - like Newton's discovery of the Universal Law of Gravitation. The cosmic law itself which the sage Newton discovered and described is a-paurusheya. The validity of a universal law, like the proof of a mathematical result, does not rest on the authority of any purusha.

Another fundamental difference is that Hindu scriptures - unlike the Qu'ran and the Bible - carry no authority; they are meant only to be guides representing the wisdom and experience of others. A seeker is free to question, choose and deny. This freedom of thought and of choice lies at the heart of the pluralistic heritage of Hinduism, as indeed it did in ancient Greece. Pythagoras was just such a mystic from ancient Greece. He and his school had close affinities to Hindu mysticism. He is even believed to have studied at the famous school of Taxila in north-western India. (Pythagoras had little to do with the so-called Pythagorean theorem in geometry which was known at least two thousand years before him.)

The multiplicity of gods found in the Hindu and the Greek pantheons is a reflection of the multiplicity of pathways explored by their thinkers, and the freedom of spirit that any such seeking entails. Hindu god, like the Greek god is a personal god - as diverse as the individual. He is not the one and only God forced upon the believer by a God-substitute claiming exclusive access to God. This also accounts for the extremely rich mythologies of India and Greece. As physicist and philosopher Fritjof Capra wrote:31

The rich Indian imagination has created a vast number of gods and goddesses whose incarnations and exploits are the subjects of fantastic tales... The Hindu... knows that all these gods are creations of the mind, mythical images representing the many faces of reality. On the other hand, he or she also knows that they were not merely created to make the stories more attractive, but are essential vehicles to convey the doctrines rooted in the mystical experience.

The problem that every mystic faces is the limitation of ordinary language in expressing one's mystical experience. Just as a physicist has to use mathematics, a mystic has to use myth to convey his knowledge and experience. The well known art historian and critic, the late Ananada Coomaraswamy said: "Myth embodies the nearest approach to absolute truth that can be expressed in words." (Capra, ibid.)

The Greeks were also a highly mystical people who also created an extremely rich mythology. It is a serious mistake to regard them as 'rational', ignoring their mystical side. Neither the Greeks nor the Hindus saw the two - the rational and the mystical - as mutually exclusive. Greek civilization, like the Hindu, was pluralistic in a profound sense: it not only tolerated different pathways, but even saw the mystical and the rational as part of the same seeking. It suffered a great contraction when it lost its pluralistic heritage and spiritual freedom to the exclusivist doctrine of Christianity; for all practical purposes it became extinct. As Dante wrote:

The greatest gift that God in his bounty made in creation, and the most conformable to His goodness, and that which He prizes the most, was the freedom of the Will, with which the creatures with intelligence, they all and they alone, were and are endowed. Paradiso V.19

31 The Tao of Physics. Second edition, Basion, Shambala Publications. 1991. p. 43.

The ancient Greeks were also aware of the need for illumined insight through the application of intellect. Even though they did not analyze the implications of revealed doctrines in terms of the paurusheya concept as the Hindu sages did, the Greeks were aware of both the need for intellect and the dangers of claimed revelation. Apollonius warned a king:32

Avoid the kind that claims to be inspired: people like that lie about gods, and urge them to do many foolish things.

A similar warning against seemingly inspired words coming from a human source was given by the Hindu philosopher Madhva in his work Vishnu Tatta Nirnaya:33

Never accept as authority the words of any human (purusha); they are subject to ignorance and deception. No paurusheya text can be taken as authoritative by attributing infallibility to a human. One deludes oneself in believing that such a man -infallible and free from deceit - existed and he alone was the author of the text.34

Contrast this with the claim of Moses as the word of God: "And he shall speak unto you all that I shall command him." The essence of the ideas stated by Dante and Apollonius was expressed with exceptional clarity and power many thousand years earlier by the Vedic sage Vishwamitra in his famous Gayatri mantra (Rigveda, 111.62.10):

I pay homage to the supreme grandeur of the divine creative light, that it may inspire our intellect.

Vishwamitra saw God as the spirit that 'inspired the intellect'. This gets to the heart of the mystically inclined civilizations like those of ancient India and Greece: their sages saw no essential difference between the mystical impulse, and rational thinking: the one inspired the other. A theocratic doctrine sees religion and the exercise of secular power as inseparable; a spiritual tradition on the other hand regards the mind - the seat of reason, and the soul - the source of mysticism, as a unity. Sages like Vishwamitra and Socrates would have seen any exclusive division between the two as artificial and shallow.

A modern sage who also saw this fundamental unity of spirit and reason was Albert Einstein who said: "The most beautiful and most profound emotion we can experience is the sensation of the mystical. ...It is the source of all science. "35

The Gayatri mantra (prayer) of Vishwamitra is an affirmation of this spiritual unity. This is the spirit that was lost by Greece, a loss from which she has still not recovered. It is again this spirit that lies at the heart of the millennia-old heritage of Hinduism. It is also this spirit and freedom that the Church - and the mosque - have sought continually to suppress and extinguish, seeing it as the great enemy of their closed creeds.

The Greek God, like the Hindu God, is the goal of a search within the self. Like the

32 Ram Swamp, Pope John Paul on Eastern Religions and Yoga: A Hindu-Buddhist Rejoinder, Voice of India, New Delhi, 1995, p.29.

33 Madhva (1250-1328) lived at a time when Islamic aggression in India was at its height. His observation was meant probably as a warning against the claims of Islam as representing revealed truth.

34 It is clear from all this that ancient Greece and Hindu India were sister civilizations with similar approaches to fundamental problems. The Dialogues of Plato and the Sanskrit Upanishads are similar in spirit. As we shall see in Chapter VIII, this is recognized by the Church also which seeks to do to Hindu India what it did to ancient Greece.

35 A famous statement made first in 1930. See for instance Albert Einstein: Creator and rebel by Banesh Hoffman, Plume Books. New York, 1972. p. 253. (Slight differences in wording are due to differences in translation.)

Hindus, the Greeks also recognized that God is ultimately unknowable and any search for knowledge about God has to be ultimately a search within the self as to what God means to the seeker. Socrates expressed the awe and the mystery of this seeking when he said (Dialogues of Plato, Crarylus, 400-401):

Of the Gods we know nothing, either of their natures or of the names by which they call themselves. ...but we are enquiring about the meaning of men in giving them these names.

This is similar to the Hindu way of looking at the question as a search within oneself - the seeker. In fact, this brings Socrates close to the sages of the Upanishads who described Brahma as "invisible and incomprehensible." Vedic seers saw the Rigveda as the gift of God, and its language as 'Language of the Gods'. And yet they recognized that it was beyond the capacity of ordinary mortals to grasp all its hidden meanings. Dirghatamas, probably the most mystical of the Vedic poets put it this way:

Four are the levels of speech. Three concealed in mystery cannot be bestirred. Their meaning known only to the supremely wise, men speak only in the fourth. Rigveda 1.164.45

How then does the sage perceive cosmic truth? Dirghatamas provides a quintessentially pluralistic answer:

Cosmic reality is one, but the wise perceive it in many ways: As Indra, Mitra, Varuna, Agni, mighty Garutmat, Yama, and Matarisvan - the giver of breath. Rigveda 1.164.46

This links the pluralistic pantheon to the diverse pathways of the human search for cosmic truth. The Hindu God, like the Greek God is a personal God - the goal of knowledge to be attained through a search within the self. This is reflected in the teachings of ancient Indian and Greek sages. "Accept nothing on my authority. Think, and be a lamp unto thyself," urged the Buddha. "Know thyself!" said Socrates. "You are," said the sage of the ancient Chandogya Upanishad, "that which you are".

In summary, the Hindu and the Greek God is internal to the seeker - therefore as diverse as the individual. He is not the One and Only God imposed upon the believer by an external authority claiming exclusive access to God. Greek civilization underwent a great contraction when it lost its pluralistic heritage and spiritual freedom to the exclusivist doctrine of Christianity; for all practical purposes it became extinct.

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