India and Western Religious Thought – Greece – Chapter IV – Radhakrishnan

India and Western Religious Thought – Greece – Chapter IV – Radhakrishnan

Pages 115-132 are omitted for various purposes.


page 133-134

The rise of philosophical reflection in Greece and the revolt against the traditional Homeric religion belongs to this period. India and the West were brought into closer political, economic, and cultural connexion in the sixth century b.c. The outstanding event of the period was the rise of Persia. Babylon fell in 538 b.c., and Cyrus founded the Persian Empire. About 510 b.c., his successor Darius made the Indus valley a part of his empire, which also included Greece.1 The Iranians, who ruled the empire from the Mediterranean to the Indus, were themselves kinsmen of the Vedic Aryans. The community of interest and ideals between the kindred peoples received emphasis during the centuries preceding the invasion of India by Alexander the Great, when Persia exercised sway over north-western India. While Indians took part in the invasion of Greece in 480 b.c., Greek officials and soldiers served in India also. The Indians knew the Greek lonians (javanas}2 as early as the period when north-west India was under Persian rule. The earliest speculations, which questioned the simple eschatology of Homer and sought for a more rational explanation of the meaning of life, originated with the Ionian Greeks of Asia Minor, who were in touch with Persia. Though Thales of Miletus was the father of Greek philosophy, the foundations of Greek metaphysics were laid by the Eleatic school, Xenophanes, Parmenides, and Zeno. The merchant seamen who established Greek colonies broke down the seclusion of Greek life and brought to their native cities knowledge of many strange things from other lands. Anaxagoras, the chief forerunner of Socrates, came from the Ionian Clazo-menae of Asia Minor, and Xenophanes was a homeless wanderer. There is great agreement between the teaching of the Upanisads on the nature of reality and the Eleatic doctrine, between the Samkhya teaching and the views of Empedocles and Anaxagoras. Much has been made of these resemblances, though it is quite possible that the Greeks and the Indians reached similar conclusions independently of one another.

1 The first Greek book about India was perhaps written by Scylax, a Greek sea-captain whom Darius commissioned to explore the course of the Indus about 510 b.c. (Herodotus, iv. 44).
z Cf. Panini, who speaks of the Greek script as yavanani lifi, iv. I. 49. The Prakrit equivalent of yavana, viz. yona, is used in the inscriptions of Asoka to describe the Hellenic princes of Egypt, Cyrene, Macedonia, Epirus, and Syria.


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The case is somewhat different with the mystery cults and the teaching of Pythagoras and Plato. In them we find a decisive break with the Greek tradition of rationalism and humanism. The mystic tradition is definitely un-Greek in its character.1 A reference to the Orphic and Eleusinian mysteries and the doctrines of Pythagoras and Plato will help to elucidate the distinctive character of this tradition in Greek thought.
Orpheus, said to be a Thracian, appears in Greek history as the prophet of a religious school or sect with a code of rules of life, a mystical theology, and a system of purificatory and expiatory rites.2 His teachings are embodied in a collection of writings to which there are frequent references in Greek literature.3 Dionysus is the god of the cult. Faith in the inherent immortality of the soul is a cardinal feature of the Orphic religion* In the phenomenon of ecstasy the soul ‘steps out of the body’ and reveals its true nature. Orgiastic religions share the conviction that the worshippers of God are possessed by God.5 When we are possessed by God, we are for the moment lifted to the divine status. What can become divine even for a time cannot be different in essence from the divine, though it is not, however, divine when it is enclosed in the body. There is no insuperable gulf between God and the soul. The release of the divine from the non-divine elements is the objective of the Orphic religion. The soul is not a feeble double of the individual as in Homer, but is a fallen god which is restored to its high estate by a system of sacraments and purifications.

1 Nietzsche looks upon Plato’s thought as ‘anti-Hellenic’. See his Will to Power, ed. by Dr. Oscar Levy, vol. i (1909), p. 346.
2 Plato, Phaedrus, 69 c.
3 In the Hippolytus of Euripides, Theseus taunts his son with the ascetic life he leads through having taken Orpheus for his lord. In the Alcestis the chorus lament that they have found no remedy for the blows of fate, ‘no charm on Thracian tablets which tuneful Orpheus carved out’. Orphism is mentioned in Plato’s Cratylus, 402 b; Laws, ii. 669 d, viii. 829 d; Republic, ii. 364 e; Ion, p. 536 b.
4 Herodotus, ii. 81.
5 Orphism was a reformation of the Dionysian religion. ‘The great step that Orpheus took was that, while he kept the old Bacchic faith that man might become a god, he altered the conception of what a God was and he sought to obtain that godhead by wholly different means. The grace he sought was not physical intoxication but spiritual ecstasy; the means he adopted, not drunkenness but abstinence and rites of purification’ (J. E. Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (1903), p. 477).


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If the soul is divine and immortal in essence, and if it is not at once freed from bondage at death, then it must remain in an intermediate state or in other animal and human forms until release is attained. Man is required to free himself from the chains of the body in which the soul lies bound like a prisoner in the cell. It has a long way to go before it can find its freedom. The death of the body frees it for a little while, but it passes on to a new body. It continues the journey perpetually, alternating between an unfettered separate existence and an ever-renewed embodiment traversing the great circle of necessity in which it assumes many bodies. Birth is not the beginning of a new life but admission into a new environment. This wheel of birth goes on until the soul escapes from it by attaining release.1 It becomes divine, as it was before it entered a mortal body.2 To seek to become like the gods is to the orthodox Greek the height of insolence, though it is of the essence of the Orphic religion. We have the typical Greek reaction to the fine abandon of the Orphic ‘God am I, mortal no longer’ in Pindar. ‘Seek not to become a god.’ ‘Seek not to become Zeus . . . mortal things befit mortals best.’ ‘Mortal minds must seek what is fitting at the hands of the gods, recognising what is at our feet, and to what lot we are born. Strive not, my soul, for an immortal life, but do the thing which it is within thy power to do.’3 The concern of the Orphic is not so much with the future of the soul as with the attainment of perfect purity.

1 Cf. Campagno, Gold Tablets, No. 5. ‘I have flown out of the sorrowful weary wheel’ (Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion, J. E. Harrison (1903), p. 670).
2 See Plato, Phaedrus, 62 b; Cratylus, 400 b: Herodotus speaks of a Thracian tribe, the Getai, who believe in ‘men made immortal’, iv. 93-4. They accept the doctrine of rebirth also. See Rohde, Psyche, p. 263.
3 W. K. C. Guthrie, Orpheus and Greek Religion (1935), pp. 236-7. ‘Genuine Greek religion knows no mystical striving after a blessed union with God in ecstasy after an abolition of the limits of individuality in a realm beyond the conscious life. Prophetic austerity and mystic indifference are alike foreign to it’ (Heiler, Prayer, E.T. (1932), p. 76).


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The possibility of salvation or the germ of divinity lies within each of us. Its existence does not assure one of perfection, for it may be suppressed by a life of sinfulness. To become actually what we are now potentially, to shake off our earthly trammels, we must lead the Orphic life. The source of evil is in our appetites and passions, which must be subdued. Ascetic practices are prescribed, such as abstinence from beans, flesh, and certain kinds of fish, wearing ordained clothes, and avoidance of bloody sacrifices. In the Orphic mysteries we find in addition to baptism such rites as the Sacred Marriage, the Birth of the Holy Child, and these perhaps led to later Christian sacraments.1 Union with the body and its desires is regarded as a thwarting hindrance to the immortal abiding life of the soul. Orphism does not insist on the civic virtues characteristic of Greek morality.2 The Orphic cult transcends the limits of blood groups. It affirms that all men are brothers. The sense of solidarity not only includes all mankind but embraces all living things. All life is one, and God is one. The pictures of Orpheus in which wild and tame animals were represented as lying down in amity side by side all alike, charmed by the notes of his lyre, illustrate the unity of all living creation.3 The influence of the Orphic cult was on the side of civilization and the arts of peace. Orpheus was entirely free from warlike attributes, and his lyre was used to soften the hearts of men. Orphic religion is different from the anthropomorphic worship of the Greeks. Its adherents are organized in communities based on voluntary admission and initiation. Orphic cosmogony and eschatology are foreign to the Greek spirit. 

1 ‘The early Christians owed some of their noblest impulses to Orphism.’ J. E. Harrison, Prolegomena to the Study of Greek Religion (1903), p. 504; see also p. 549.
2 Rohde observes: ‘It does not enjoin the practice of the civic virtues, nor is discipline or transformation of character required by it; the sum total of its morality is to bend one’s course towards the deity and turn away, not from the moral lapses and aberrations of earthly life, but from earthly existence itself’ (Psyche, ii. 125). ‘This was a religion of an entirely different kind from the civic worship to which the ordinary Greek professed his allegiance’ (Guthrie, op. cit., p. 206).

3 They may be the symbol of the Good Shepherd of the Christians and remind us of Krsna with the flute.


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Homer is not troubled by the problem of the origin of things. He knows of no world egg which plays a prominent part in many cosmogonies and in Orphism. Those who are familiar with the Vedic hymn of creation will note that the conceptions of night and chaos and the birth of love, as well as that of the cosmic egg, are accepted by the Orphics.1
In later times Orphic theology was studied by Greek philosophers, Eudemus the Peripatetic, Chrysippus the Stoic, and Proclus the Neoplatonist. It became a favourite study of the grammarians of Alexandria. While much of the Orphic literature that has come down to us is of a late date, ‘the thin gold plates, with Orphic verses inscribed on them discovered at Thourioi and Petelia, take us back to a time when Orphicism was still a living creed’.3 ‘From them we learn’, says Professor Burnet, ‘that it has some striking resemblances to the beliefs prevalent in India about the same time’, though he finds it ‘impossible to assume any Indian influence in Greece at this date’. The beliefs held in common are those of rebirth, the immortality and godlike character of the soul, the bondage of the soul in the body, and the possibility of release by purification. If we add to them metaphors like the wheel of birth and the world egg, the suggestion of natural coincidence is somewhat unconvincing.3

1 The most popular of all Orphic theogonies holds that Chronos or Time, ‘who grows not old’, first existed, and from it sprang ether and the formless chaos. From them was formed an egg which bursting in due time disclosed Eros or Phanes, the firstborn, at once male and female and having within himself the seeds of all creatures. Phanes creates the Sun and Moon and Night, and from Night arise Uranos and Gaea (Heaven and Earth). These two give birth to the Titans, among whom is Kronos, who defeats his father Uranos and succeeds to his throne. He is in turn deposed by Zeus, who swallows Phanes and thus becomes the father of gods and men (Legge, Fore-runners and Rivals of Christianity (1925), vol. i, p. 123; see Aristophanes, The Birds, 693 ff.). For the Vedic theory of creation, see Indian Philosophy, 2nd ed., vol. i (1929), pp. 100 ff.
2 Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy (1930), p. 82.
3 There are certain striking resemblances in the matter of the passage to heaven. In the Pg Veda heaven is the home of the soul to which, after death, it returns purified (x. 14. 8); before reaching heaven it has to cross a stream (x. 63. 10) and pass by Yama’s watchful dogs, ‘the spotted dogs of Sarama’ (x. 14. 10).


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The Eleusinian cult is akin to the Orphic and uses Orphic hymns. While the Orphic cult imposes an ascetic regimen, no such claim is made for Eleusis. Its root idea seems to be more magical than ethical.1 If we perform the correct ritual the great goddess will protect us here and hereafter. Yet, so far as the theoretical background is concerned, it is not different from that of the Orphics. It believes that the divine dwells in man. Dark shrouds are wrapped round it and we must unwrap them. Initiation was considered to be of great importance. Any one who has not had initiation is only a half-man. Through it we enter into an awareness of our real selfhood, which is divine. This is to be twice born. Our first birth is the physical one; the second is unto what is real in us, to be changed in our nature. The yearning of religion is the desire for union with our true self. At the conclusion of the rites, the last words heard by the initiates were ‘Go in peace’.2 They were to depart with their minds serene and souls at rest. ‘The initiated’, said Aristotle, ‘are not supposed to learn anything, but to be affected in a certain way and put into a certain frame of mind.’3 Even Alexander and Julius Caesar availed themselves of these initiatory rites. God is not a word or a concept but a consciousness we can realize here and now in the flesh. Religion is more than worship of a personal God. These doctrines inspired the Bacchae of Euripides, as in the oft quoted line—‘Who knows if life be death and death be life ?’ It is fairly certain that only a small proportion of those who attended the ceremonies grasped the full meaning of what they saw and heard. ‘Many are the thyrsus bearers,’ quotes Plato, 

1 Sophocles wrote: ‘Thrice happy are those mortals who see these rites before they depart for Hades; for to them alone is it granted to have true life on the other side. To the rest, all there is evil.’ To this Diogenes the cynic is said to have retorted: ‘What! Is Pataikion the thief to have a better lot after death than Epaminondas, just because he has been initiated?’ (Plutarch).
2 Cf. ‘om santih s’antih santih’; also, ‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.’
3 Fr. 45 (1483 a. 19); see also Fr. 15. ‘Those who are being initiated are not required to grasp anything with the understanding, but to have a certain inner experience, and so to be put into a particular frame of mind, presuming that they are capable of this frame of mind in the first place’ (Jaeger, Aristotle, E.T. (1934), p. 160).


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‘but few are the mystes.’1 These mystic cults were well known to and favoured by the tragic poets, Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides. They exercised great influence until they were proscribed by the Christian emperors.2

There was a close analogy between these cults and the teaching of Pythagoras, which was noticed by Herodotus.3 Pythagoras lived and taught in the second half of the sixth century b.c. at Kroton. He looked upon Orpheus as the chief of his patrons. The great musician of legend impressed Pythagoras, who was led by his experiments in music to the understanding of numerical ratios and hence to the foundation of mathematical science. For Pythagoras the universe is not only an order or observance of due proportions but a ‘harmonia’ or being in tune. The human soul must also strive to imitate the orderliness of the universe. Pythagoras enjoined an ascetic way of living. Abstention from meat was a principal requirement. He believed in rebirth. The earliest reference to Pythagoras is in a few verses quoted by Xenophanes in which we are told that Pythagoras once heard a dog howling and appealed to its master not to beat it, as he recognized the voice of a departed friend.4 Another anecdote which has become famous through Ennius and Horace tells us that Pythagoras was gifted with the power of remembering his former births, and he claimed to have been Euphorbus among others. Pythagoras believed not only in rebirth but in purification of the soul. The cycle of births is regarded as a means for the growth of man’s higher nature. The theoretic is for him the highest form of life. He was also known as an important scientific man.5 According to Aristotle, Pythagoras first busied himself with mathematics and numbers. 

1 Phaedrus.
2 F. Legge, Forerunners and Rivals of Christianity (1915), vol. i, p. 123. Julian the Apostate was initiated at Athens into the mysteries of Eleusis. Sir W. M. Ramsay affirms that the Eleusinian mysteries constituted ‘the one great attempt made by Hellenic genius to construct a religion that should keep pace with the growth of thought and civilisation in Greece’ (Encyclopaedia Britannica, 9th ed., vol. xvii, p. 126). 3 ii. 81.
4 Fr.T. Once he was passing by an ill-used pup. And pitied it, and said (or so they tell) ‘Stop, do not thrash it! ’tis a dear friend’s soul: I recognized it when I heard it yell.’
(fixford Book of Greek Verse in Translation (1938), p. 226.)
5 Heraclitus, Fr. 17; Herodotus, iv. 95.


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The only mention of Pythagoras in Plato is in the Republic/ where he tells us that Pythagoras won the affection of his followers by teaching them a way of life which was still called Pythagorean.2 A peculiar feature in the asceticism of the Pythagoreans from the fourth century at least seems to have been silence. The Pythagorean order was a religious fraternity. Admission to the fraternity was gained by initiation, i.e. by purification followed by the revelation of truth. Purification consisted not only in the observance of rules of abstinence from certain kinds of food and dress but also in the purification of the soul by theoria, or the contemplation of the divine reality.. Plato in the Phaedo3 states as the Pythagorean doctrine the view that men are strangers to the world and the body is the tomb of the soul, and yet we must not escape from it by suicide. For Pythagoras, pure contemplation is the end of man, the completion of human nature. To the question what are we born for he replied, ‘To gaze upon the heavens.’4 When by the contemplative process the soul is perfected, that is, purified from the taint of its subjection to the body, there would be no need of further rebirths. Pythagoras is believed to have reached this threshold of divinity.5 Professor Burnet says: ‘If we can trust Herakleides, it was Pythagoras who first distinguished the “three lives”, the Theoretic, the Practical, and the Apolaustic, which Aristotle made use of in the Ethics.’


1 x. 600 b. 2 Republic, vii. 530 d. 3 62 b.
4 Jaeger, Aristotle, E.T. (1934), p. 75.
5 Aristotle, Fr. 192. Aristoxenus says of Pythagoras and his followers: ‘Every distinction they lay down as to what should be done or not done aims’ at communion with the divine. This is their starting point; their whole life is ordered with a view to following God and it is the governing principle of their philosophy’ (see F. M. Cornford, ‘Mysticism and Science in Pythagorean Tradition’, Classical Quarterly (1922), p. 142).

6 Early Greek Philosophy (1930), p. 98. ‘The doctrine is to this effect. We are strangers in this world and the body is the tomb of the soul, and yet we must not seek to escape by self-murder; for we are the chattels of God who is our herdsman, and without his command we have no right to make our escape. In this life there are three kinds of men, just as there are three sorts of people who come to the Olympic games. The lowest class is made up of those who come to buy and sell and next above them are those who come to compete. Best of all, however, are those who come to look on. The greatest purification of all is science and it is the man who devotes himself to that, the true philosopher, who has most effectually released himself from the “wheel of birth”.’


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Pythagoras held, as the early Upanisad thinkers did, that all souls are similar in class and the apparent distinctions between human and other kinds of beings are not ultimate. lamblichus1 informs us that Pythagoras held that the islands of the blest were the sun and the moon. In the Upanisads the moon is mentioned as the dwelling-place of spirits.2

Being a mathematician, Pythagoras expressed his cosmogony in mathematical terms. The primal Monad takes the place of the world egg. The world is a mixture of light and darkness, the formless and the form. The mathematical and mystical sides were “side by side in Pythagoras and, according to tradition, a split occurred within the school between the Mathematikoi or the rationalists, whose interest was in the theory of numbers, and the Akusmatikoi, who followed up the religious side of the movement. We have in Pythagoras a rare combination of high intellectual power and profound spiritual insight.

Herodotus suggests that Pythagoras got the doctrine of rebirth from the Egyptians,3 but ‘the Egyptians did not believe in transmigration at all and Herodotus was deceived by the priests or the symbolism of the monuments’.4 Even if the theory be a development from the primitive belief in the kinship of men and beasts, it is difficult to account for the other parts of the system, taboos on certain kinds of food,5 the rule of silence which the members of his fraternity were required to observe, the ascetic emphasis and insistence on release assured to those who are initiated. lamblichus, the biographer of Pythagoras, tells us that he travelled widely, studying the teachings of Egyptians, Assyrians, and Brahmins.6 Gomperz writes: ‘It is not too much to assume that the curious Greek, 


1 Pit. Pyth. 82.
2 See Deussen, Philosophy of the Upanisads, E.T. (1906), pp. 326 ff.
3 ii. 123.
4 Burnet, Early Greek Philosophy (1930), 4th ed., pp. 88-9.
5 ‘Timaios told how at Delos, Pythagoras refused to sacrifice on any but the oldest altar, that of Apollo the Father, where only bloodless sacrifices were allowed’ (ibid., p. 93).
6 Professor H. G. Rawlinson writes: ‘It is more likely that Pythagoras was influenced by India than by Egypt. Almost all the theories, religious, philosophical and mathematical taught by the Pythagoreans, were known in India in the sixth century b.c., and the Pythagoreans, like the Jains and the Buddhists, refrained from the destruction of life and eating meat and regarded certain vegetables such as beans as taboo’ (Legacy of India (1937), P- 5)- ‘It seems also that the so-called Pythagorean theorem of the quadrature of the hypotenuse was already known to the Indians in the older Vedic times, and thus before Pythagoras’ (ibid.). Professor Winternitz is of the same opinion: ‘As regards Pythagoras, it seems to me very probable that he became acquainted’ with Indian doctrines in Persia’ {Fiivabharati Quarterly, Feb. 1937, p. 8). It is also the view of Sir William Jones (Works, iii. 236), Colebrooke (Miscellaneous Essays, i. 436 ff.), Schroeder (Pythagoras unddie Inder), Gurbe (Philosophy of Ancient India, pp. 39 ff.), Hopkins (Religions of India, pp. 559 and ;6o), and Macdonell (Sanskrit Literature, p. 422). Professor A. Berriedale Keith is needlessly critical of this view. See his article on ‘Pythagoras and the Doctrine of Transmigration’, f.R.A.S., 1909, pp. 569 ff.


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who was a contemporary of Buddha, and it may be of Zoroaster too, would have acquired a more or less exact knowledge of the East in that age of intellectual fermentation, through the medium of Persia.’1

Whether or not we accept the hypothesis of direct influence from India through Persia on the Greeks, a student of Orphic and Pythagorean thought cannot fail to see that the similarities between it and the Indian religion are so close as to warrant our regarding them as expressions of the same view of life. We can use the one system to interpret the other.

Though Socrates (470-399 b.c.) was a great advocate of rational self-discipline, he was a deeply religious man. He often talked of his ‘inner voice’, which would forbid him on occasions to do something which he planned to do. Being something of a mystic he would occasionally fall into-deep meditation. Once when he was serving in the army in northern Greece, he was observed standing still meditating in the early hours of the morning. Deep in thought he stood there all day and all night, and with the return of light he offered a prayer to the sun and went on his way. For him religion was quite different from the ritualistic religion of the Greeks. He was aware of the supernatural world and felt himself a member of the heavenly city. The world might kill, but it has not the last word.

‘If you should say to me, “O Socrates, at the moment we will not hearken to Anytus, but we release you on this condition, that you no longer abide in this inquiry or practise philosophy—and if you are caught still doing this, you will be put to death”, if then you would release me on these conditions, I should say to you, “You have my thanks and affection, men of Athens, but I will obey the God rather than you and, while I have breath and power, I will not desist from practising philosophy.”’*

1 Greek Thinkers, vol. i, p. 127.


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He perhaps accepted the .Orphic view that the soul is immortal and that happiness means the achieving of immortality by renunciation of the world, and that all men are brothers whatever their conditions be.
The mystic tradition finds its full expression in Plato (427-347 b.c.). Plato does not adopt the Greek view of rationality. For him truth cannot always be proved. Sometimes it can only be suggested and grasped by the mind in a wordless dialectic. It appeals to the whole nature of man and not simply to the intellect. Plato speaks of the poet as ‘a light and winged and holy thing, one whom God possesses and uses as his mouthpiece’.2 He finds the empiricist view that Forms are present in sensible things and our knowledge of them is conveyed through the senses unsatisfying. The world of intelligible forms is separate from the things our senses perceive, and it is the rational soul that has a knowledge of them. The Forms must always be what they are. The many things that we perceive are perpetually changing. There are two orders of reality: the unperceived, exempt from all change, and the perceived, which change perpetually. The soul is unperceived, simple, indissoluble, immortal; the body is complex, dissoluble, mortal. When the soul is mixed up with the senses, it is lost in the world of change; when it withdraws from the senses, it escapes into that other region of pure, eternal, unchanging being. Plato speaks of the supersensual vision of the philosophers:
‘We beheld the beatific vision and were initiated into a mystery which may be truly called most blessed, celebrated by us in our state of innocence, before we had any experience of evils to come, when we were admitted to the sight of apparitions innocent and simple and calm and happy which we beheld shining in pure light; pure ourselves,

1 Plato’s Apology, 29 c.
2 /^P- 534-


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and not yet enshrined in that living tomb which we carry about, now that we are imprisoned in the body like an oyster in his shell.’1
Plato gives in the Phaedo an account of the life eternal:
‘When the soul returns into itself and reflects, it passes into another region, the region of that which is pure and everlasting, immortal and unchangeable; and feeling itself kindred thereto, it dwells there under its own control and has rest from its wanderings, and is constant and one with itself as are the objects with which it deals.’
The truth of things is always in our soul, which is immortal and has been many times reborn. It can recover the memory of what it has formerly known, and in the Phaedo this fact of recollection is accepted as the proof for pre-existence. The soul not only has pre-existed but is indestructible. Whatever is composed or put together out of parts is liable to destruction. The incomposite suffers no kind of change.
The soul is for ever travelling through a cycle of necessity where it gets a life agreeable to its desire. Some of the souls go to prisons under the earth, others to heaven, ‘to a life suited to the life which they lived while they were in the form of man’. In the famous apologue of Er the Pamphylian with which Plato ends the Republic., disembodied souls are represented as choosing their next incarnation at the hands of ‘Lachesis, daughter of necessity’, which is the law of Karma personified. The human soul is purified through a series of incarnations from which it finally escapes when completely purified. The theory has nothing in common with the popular belief of the nature of the soul as a flimsy double of the body, an unsubstantial shadow which is dissipated when detached from the body. Plato refers his view of pre-existence and rebirth to a ‘sacred story’.2 ‘I have heard something from men and women who were wise in sacred lore.’3
The dominating thought in Plato is that the ordinary man is not truly awake but is walking about like a somnambulist in pursuit of phantoms.4 So long as we are subject to passions, dreams are taken for reality. When the truth is realized, the shadows ,of the night pass away and in the dawn

1 Phaedrus, 250 b, c, Jowett’s E.T. z Ion, p. 534.
3 Phaedo, 70 c. 4 Meno, 80 e.


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of another sun we see no longer in signs and symbols enigmatically, but face to face as the gods see and know. The simile of the cave reminds us of the Hindu doctrine of maya, or appearance. Plato compares the human race to men sitting in a cave, bound, with their backs to the light and fancying that the shadows on the wall before them are not shadows but real objects. We live in the darkness of the cave and require to be led out of it into the sunlight. Again, to the ordinary Greek the body counted for a good deal. 1 o Plato it is a fetter to which we are chained.1 Our affections must be fixed on a future world in which we will be freed from the body. ‘If we would have pure knowledge of anything, we must be quit of the body—the soul in herself must behold things in themselves: and then we shall attain the wisdom which we desire and of which we say that we are lovers: not while we live but after death.’2 The senses belong to the flesh. When the spirit withdraws from the flesh to think by itself untroubled by the senses, it lays hold upon unseen reality. The pursuit of wisdom is a ‘loosing and separation of the spirit from the body’? We have here the possibility of a complete detachment of the thinking self from the body and its senses and passions, and it implies as a consequence the separate existence of the Forms. Such is the view to be found in the earlier Dialogues. They assert that the Forms have an existence separate from things even as the spirit has an existence separate from the body.
‘Evil Theodorus, can never pass away: for there must always remain something which is antagonistic to good. It has no place in heaven, so of necessity it haunts the mortal nature and this earth y sohere ‘ Therefore we ought to escape from earth to heaven as quickly as we can: and to escape is to become like God, as far as possible; and to become like him is to become holy, just and wise. . . . God is never in any way unrighteous—he is perfect righteousness—and those of us who are most righteous are most like him.’*
The doctrine that the body is an encumbrance, the source
2 66, Plato attributes the view that the body is a prison or a tomb to
the Orphics (Cratylus, 400 c).
3 Ibid. 67 d.
4 Theaetelus, 176.


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of evil from which the soul must long to-be purified, permeates the Phaedo.
It is obvious that here we have a note which is fundamentally opposed to the essentially Greek spirit that learned to delight in all that pleased the senses and satisfied the emotions, that looked upon this world not as a passage to the next but as something which was in itself good and lovely, that life must be lived beautifully as well as worthily, with the strenuous exercise of all the powers of body, mind, and spirit. The sharp separation of the world of the senses from the world of the Ideas should naturally result in a lack of interest in the sensible world and a concentration on the higher, but this consequence is opposed to the natural longing of the Greek to take part in practical affairs. While the Orphic and the Pythagorean teaching set the feet of Plato on the upward path from the cave into the sunlight, his Greek humanism sternly bade him return and help his fellow prisoners still fettered in the darkness of the cave.
We have in Plato, as in the Upanisads, the highest God, the Idea of the Good in the Republic, the Demiurgus and the Soul of the World in the Timaeus.1 Towards the end of the sixth book of the Republic Plato describes the endeavour of philosophy to ascend to the first principle of the universe which transcends all definite existence. The three tualities of sattva, rajas, and tamas have for their equivalents in Plato Logistikon, Thumos, and Epithumia. Epithumia,’ like tamas, represents blind desire with its character of ignorance; Thumos is, like rajas, the element of passion and tower, standing midway between ignorance and knowledge. The Logistikon, or the rational element, answers to the sattva quality, which harmonizes the soul and illumines it. The division of souls into classes based on the preponderance :f these psychical elements answers to the divisions of the Indian caste system.
In Book III of the Republic Plato criticizes the popular religion as embodied in Homer’s poetry, and in Book X he zontrasts Homer with Pythagoras. Besides the defects of us moral teaching, he (Homer) has none of the marks of the
1 The Neoplatonic Trinity is traced by Porphyry to Plato. See Thomas Thittaker, TheNeo-Platonists, 2nded. (1918), p. 36; see also Enneads, v. I, 8.


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great teacher. He had no followers; he founded no school ; he inspired no disciples; he gave no valid rule of life. The religion of Pythagoras was based on the Orphic teaching with its austere asceticism, its voluntary poverty and community of goods, its belief in rebirth and respect for animal life. Aristotle suggests that Plato follows closely the teaching of the Pythagoreans. He took up Orphic and Pythagorean views and wove them into the texture of his philosophy.
The essential unity of the human and the divine spirit, the immortality of the human soul, the escape from the restless wheel of the troublesome journey, the phenomenality of the world, the contempt for the body, the distinction between knowledge and opinion contradict every single idea of Greek popular religion.1 They are eccentrics in the sphere of Greek thought.
Empedocles accepts as indefeasible facts the divine nature of the soul and the doctrine of the soul’s fall from its original divine condition into the corporeal state in which it must expiate its guilt by a long pilgrimage through the bodies ot men, animals, and plants. Asceticism is for him one of the most effective means of delivering the soul from the work of sense. ‘Whoever exerteth himself, with toil, him can we release.’ The soul at length returns to its divine status and

1 The contrast between the Greek spirit and Plato’s thought is pointed out by Rohde: ‘The real first principle of the religion of the Greek people is this— that in the divine ordering of the world, humanity and divinity are absolute.; divided in place and nature, so they must ever remain. A deep gulf is fixed between the worlds of mortality and divinity…. Poetic fancies about the Translation” of individual mortals to an unending life enjoyed by the soul still united to the body might make their appeal to popular belief; but such things remained miracles in which divine omnipotence had broken down the barrier: of the natural order on a special occasion. It was but a miracle too, if the so’__ of certain mortals were raised to the rank of Heroes, and so promoted to eve. • lasting life. The gulf between the human and the divine is not made ar-narrower on that account; it remained unbridged, abysmal. . .. Nevertheless at a certain period in Greek history, and nowhere earlier or more unmistakac. than in Greece, appeared the idea of the divinity, and the immortality impkt. in the divinity, of the human soul. That idea belonged entirely to mystici:-(Psyche, E.T. (1925), pp. 253-4). Sir Richard Livingstone writes thy ‘Plato is the most eminent representative of the heretics’. ‘He is the prophe. literature of the Orphic worship, which coming from Thrace in the sixth ce: tury, spoke of immortality and rebirth, of intimate union with God, of heaver for the initiate and mud pools for the sinner, preaching asceticism and punt


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the wise men who practise such holy living eventually become gods while yet on earth.1
The divine origin of the soul, its pre-existence, its fall into corporeality, its judgement after death, its expiatory wanderings through the bodies of animals or men according to its character, its final redemption from the cycle of rebirth and its return to God, are common to the mystery cults and Plato and Empedocles. This tradition is something which Hellenic thought, untouched by alien speculation, was perhaps not very likely to have developed, and we have it in a striking form in Indian religion.
To the student of cultural development it is indifferent whether similarities are due to borrowing or are the result of parallel intellectual evolution; the important thing is that the ideas are similar. They were firmly established in India before the sixth century b.c., and they arise in Greece after that period. History does not repeat itself except with variations. It is idle to look for exact parallels, but we can trace a resemblance between the two systems, the -Indian and the Greek. There are some who regard it as derogatory to the Greeks to send them to school to older cultures and assume them to have taken thence some of the sources of their knowledge and belief. But people of their acute intellectual vigour, inquisitiveness, and flexible mind cannot help being influenced by foreigners with whom they come into frequent and intimate contact as soldiers and merchants, as adventurers, seamen, and warlike settlers. When native traditions fail to satisfy increasing curiosity and thirst for knowledge, foreign sources are drawn on more freely. To be a Greek is not to be impervious to every other form of thought.
The spirit of bigotry increased in the Westxonly after Christianity became organized by the Catholic Church. Till as a road to the former, and somewhat after the fashion of the Egyptian Book of the Dead, giving its votaries elaborate instructions for their behaviour when they found themselves in the lower world’ (Greek Genius and its Meaning to Us, pp. 197-8). ‘The mind of Plato was heavily charged with Orphic mysticism mainly derived from Asiatic sources. India, always the home of mystical devotion, probably contributed the major share’ (Stutfield, Mysticism and Catholicism (1925), p. 74).
1 Fr. 146.


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then the new ideas and worships did not suggest foreign domination or alarm national pride and jealousy. They were freely adopted when old forms were felt to be unsatisfying. The Hindus, on the other hand, have been in all ages preoccupied by religious questions and were, in their vigorous days, interested in the spread of their ideas. The establishment of Hinduism in Java and Indo-China and the spread of Buddhism in large parts of Asia indicate that in wide tracts and long periods the Indians have been culturally enterprising. Up to a point it is a sound principle not to admit that resemblances prove indebtedness unless we can show the exact way in which intercommunication between two cultures took place, but the possibility that all records of such contacts may disappear cannot be ignored. We have little evidence to show how and when the Hindu colonization of Java took place. We are not completely in the dark on the question of Indian influence on Greece. Speaking of ascetic practices in the West, Professor Sir Flinders Petrie observes:
‘The presence of a large body of Indian troops in the Persian army in Greece in 480 b.c. shows how far West the Indian connections were carried; and the discovery of modelled heads of Indians at Memphis, of about the fifth century B.c., shows that Indians were living there for trade. Hence there is no difficulty in regarding India as the source of the entirely new ideal of asceticism in the West.’1
Ascetic practices developed in the tradition represented by the schools associated with the mystery cults, Pythagoras, and Plato, and in it we may suspect the influence of India directly or indirectly through Persia.
Dr. Inge observes that the Platonic or the mystical outlook on life for which religion is at once a philosophy and a discipline ‘was first felt in Asia’, especially in the Upani-sads and Buddhism.
‘This mystical faith appears in Greek lands as Orphism and Pythagoreanism. In Europe as in Asia it was associated with ideas of the transmigration of souls and a universal law of periodical recurrence. But it is in Plato, the disciple of the Pythagoreans as well as of Socrates, who was probably himself the head of a Pythagorean group at Athens,


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that this conception of an unseen eternal world of which the visible world is only a pale copy, gains a permanent foothold in the West.’1 Professor E. R. Dodds insists on the ‘Oriental background against which Greek culture arose, and from which it was never completely isolated save in the minds of classical scholars’.3
The importance of Indian influence on Greek thought is not to be judged by the amount of information about it which has survived. Eusebius (a.d. 315) preserves a tradition which he attributes to Aristoxenus, the pupil of Aristotle, and a well-known writer on harmonics, that certain learned Indians actually visited Athens and conversed with Socrates.
‘Aristoxenus the musician tells the following story about the Indians. One of these men met Socrates at Athens, and asked him what was the scope of his philosophy. “An inquiry into human phenomena,” replied Socrates. At this the Indian burst out laughing. “How can we inquire into human phenomena,” he exclaimed, “when we are ignorant of divine ones?”’3
The date of-Aristoxenus is 330 b.c. If Eusebius is to be trusted, we have contemporary evidence of the presence in Athens as early as the fourth century b.c. of Indian thinkers. The visit of the Indian to Athens is also mentioned in the fragment of Aristotle4 preserved in Diogenes Laertius.5 Even if these stories are apocryphal, they are legendary formulations of the view of the influence of Indian thought generally accepted in the later Academy. At any rate, while the popular religion of the Greeks is united to the Vedic beliefs, the mystic tradition of the Orphic and the Eleusinian cults, Pythagoras and Plato, which has had a great development in Greek and Christian thought, started with certain fundamental principles which are common to Indian and
1 The Platonic Tradition in English Religious Thought (1926), pp. 7 and 9.
2 Humanism and Technique in Greek Studies p. II.
3 Praeparatio Evangelica, xi. 3.
4 32. ‘We find in the fragments of Aristotle’s lost dialogues, which were mostly written during his earlier period, a surprising interest in certain features of Oriental religion’ (Werner Jaeger, ‘Greeks and jews’. Journal of Religion, April 1938, p. 128).
5 ii. 45. Eudoxus, the astronomer and friend of Plato, was greatly interested in Indian thought. See Pliny, Natural History, xxx. 3.


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Greek mysticism. It gave rise in Christianity to the consciousness of sin and the need of redemption, rewards and punishments after death, the latter both purgatorial and punitive, initiation by sacraments as a passport to a happy life hereafter, the necessity for moral as well as ceremonial purity. Alien in origin, alien to the spirit of Hellenism, predominantly Indian in character and content, walking in the shadow without support from the State, the Orphic, the Eleusinian, the Pythagorean brotherhoods, and Platonic schools prepared the way for the later Platonism and for certain elements in Catholic theology.1
1 Cf. Mayer: ‘Egyptian, Persian, and Indian cultural influences were absorbed into the Greek world from very early times’ (Political Thought (1939), p. 7). As for the influence of Greece on India, it has not been on the deeper levels of life. In the sphere of art the Greek influence was considerable. Perhaps the idea of representing the founder of Buddhism as a man originated with them. Tarn says: ‘Considered broadly, what the Asiatic took from the Greek was usually externals only, matters of form; he rarely took substance— civic institutions may be an exception—and never spirit. For in matters of the spirit Asia was quite confident that she could outstay the Greeks; and she did’ (The Greeks in Bactria and India (1938), p. 67). Again: ‘Indian civilisation was strong enough to hold its own against Greek civilisation, but except in the religious sphere, was seemingly not strong enough to influence it as Babylonia did; nevertheless we may find reason for thinking that in certain respects India was the dominant partner’ (ibid., pp. 375-6). ‘Except for the Buddha-statue the history of India would in all essentials have been precisely what it has been, had Greeks never existed’ (ibid., p. 376).