Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Cosmic Cycle and The Orgins of Philosophy

"What is the origin of philosophy?" "Why is it that the first question philosophy asks is the question of the one and the many?" It may surprise that the answer to these questions is an environmental answer. We can find the origin of philosophy in the notion of the cosmic cycle. The cosmic cycle is the yearly cycle the earth experiences as it orbits about the sun. All nature changes over time on the basis of the yearly cycle. We see that man from the earliest times developed a calendar which expresses the changes in nature that happen to the planet over the time of the cosmic cycle. Thus the cosmic cycle becomes a paradigm that finds its expression in various in various cultural forms. Stonehenge is an example of the notion of the cosmic cycle expressed in architecture. The cosmic cycle was also expressed in myths of all ancient cultures. Thus each point in the cycle and the cycle itself was expressed in the form of myth. These myths expressed the processes of nature that occur on a yearly basis.
Philosophy came to exist when non-mythical language came to replace the mythical language that man used to express his knowledge of the cosmic cycle. Philosophy started as a proto-scientific attempt to describe the changes nature experiences over the period of the cosmic cycle. Human life was seen as a cycle that existed as a longer form of the cosmic cycle. Thus the birth-death process was seen as a form of the cosmic cycle. It is not surprising that with such basic assumptions the doctrine of reincarnation grown out of man's understanding of the cosmic cycle in some cultures.
If we examine the teachings of the Chandogya Upanishad we see that the doctrine of the five fires tries to explain the cosmic cycle as it was seen occurring in the form of the individual human life. Thomas McEvilley in The Shape of Ancient Thought (Pg. 41)says the following "When a soul (representing the fire element) is ready to be reincarnated, it is said to change into rain and rain down into the earth, then grow out of the earth transformed into plant food,which represents, in ancient Indian philosophical discourse, the earth element; the food, being eaten, is transformed into semen, which is traditionally understood in this context as representing the water element; being sown in a womb, the semen becomes a person, or soul again."
This process is seen as being on earth the same cosmic cycle process that is seen in the sky with the movement of the planets and stars through the year. While we give the doctrine of the cosmic cycle as it occurs in the Chandogya Upanishad we see that the question of the cosmic cycle was also addressed by the pre-Socratic philosophers of Greece where the reincarnation doctrine can also be found. The reason why the question of the one and the many is related to the cosmic cycle is because if there is a cycle of material transformations which the world and man experiences one must ask what experiences these transformations. In the case of the Chandogya Upanishad "fire", that is, soul is seen as being the monistic substance which undergoes this transformation.
The description of the cosmic cycle process was the main question the early pre-Socratic philosophers in Greece and the Indian philosophers of the early period addressed. Many of the Greek pre-Socratic philosophers, such as Anaximander and others wrote works called On Nature which described the nuts and bolts of what they saw was the cosmic cycle process of the universe. The question of the one and the many was simply another secondary question these philosophers addressed as a result of addressing the primary question of how the cosmic cycle functions. Since the cosmic cycle was the basis of ancient religion addressing the question of the cosmic cycle was the means by which the central religious questions could be addressed. Philosophy in the pre-Socratic period was simply an expression of the basic theological system of the culture using non-mythical language. The use of this non-mythical language allowed man to address questions that had previously only had been posed theologically. This basic linguistic shift was the basis of the so called "miracle" of the birth of Greek and Indian philosophy.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Tisamenus Sutra

Thus I have heard. Once, Athena met King Tisamenus in the royal palace of Thebes. Tisamenus asked a question.
Tisamenus: Is there one essence which exists as the essence of all things or are there many essences?
Athena: From the point of view of ultimate reality there is only one essence. This is because all things are ultimately the vacuum which manifests as all things. It is also because each atom-moment when it is taken by itself as a ground has no truth value and is indeterminate. That which is indeterminate has no truth value and has no determinate definition. Since all atom-moments taken as grounds are a manifestation of the vacuum the atom-moments and the vacuum cannot be different grounds. Since anything which is indeterminate is equally the same indeterminate reality the vacuum and every atom-moment taken as a ground must be the same essence. From the point of view of relative reality there are an infinite number of essences. Each atom-moment taken as a ground,each series taken as a ground and infinite time-space taken as a ground can from the relative perspective all be seen as different grounds. Since there are an infinite number of atom-moments there must be from the relative point of view an infinite number of essences.
When Athena had finished preaching this Sutra Tisamenus was jubilant. Tisamenus accepted Athena's teaching and began to follow it with great veneration.