Friday, February 10, 2006

More on the Orphic thread

I don't want to get too side-tracked by this but my research into the origins of causality has shined a light on some interesting connections between the Presocratics, Orphism and the Vedic tradition and the apparent ubiquity of mysticism. There is plenty of material, a flavour of which is copied below. Note the reference to rta which is where my reading on the origins of causal order in Indian philosophy seem to be leading. (Pirsig readers will no doubt recognise rta from LILA.)

In dealing with pre-Socratic thought, we constantly find ourselves in an atmosphere more akin to that of the Orient than to that of the West. As the late professor F. H. Smith pointed out, the apeiron of Anaximander is almost exactly the Hindu nirvikalpa, the nameless and formless, called Aditi, the unlimited, in the Rg Veda. Moreover, this Aditi which is nirvikalpa, is ordered by the immanent Rta or dharma, just as in Anaximander an immanent dike ensures that all things shall eventually return to the apeiron whence they came: "From which all things take their rise, and by necessity (PT: Ananke) they are destroyed into these; for all things render just atonement to one another for their injustice according to the due ordering of time."

There may even be an echo of the monism of the Upanishads in Empedocles, which, like many other features of his philosophy, seems to have been mediated through Orphism....A distinct tradition of mysticism runs through Orphism, Pythagoras, and Plato which is as unlike anything in Greek thought as it is like the Hindu mysticism of the Upanishads....Reality is not now what is perceived by the senses but what lies beyond them....Orphism and Hinduism have much in common. Just as the Brahmins kept the belief of the shamans or medicine men of the Vedas that man could become a god, but attempted to achieve this union not by drinking the intoxicating soma but by abstinence and ascetic practices so Orpheus purified the old Dionysiac religion and substituted asceticism for drunkenness. The aim of Orphism seems to be the liberation of the soul from the chains of the body, and this is to be achieved by asceticism but man must pass through many lives before he achieves final freedom. This is very far, indeed, from genuine Greek religion of any period, but almost exactly the predominant view of the Upanishads. Even the metaphors in which this conception is clothed are the stock Hindu and Buddhist metaphors - the wheel of life in the Upanishads appears as the "sorrowful weary wheel" of Orpheus.

(Hinduism and Buddhism in Greek Philosophy, A. N. Marlow, Philosophy East and West 4, no. 1, APRIL 1954)


Psybertron said...

Great stuff Paul.

The concluding line to my review of Dave Buchanan's conference piece was "The orphic thread must grow from here." Glad you've taken it up - I've done nothing more than watch the Cocteau trilogy so far.

You know one of my main threads is language and metaphor, and you've maybe noticed on MD that I've said several times that the Lila passages on the etymology of "Rta" and related dereivations, I consider to be the best / most important passages in the book.

BTW, I've read most of Garfield's MKK now, and have a piece I'm drafting for my blog. I'll ping you when I post it.


Rev Sam said...

Hey Paul - delighted to discover you've joined the blogging community! I was just wondering, given your references to the pre-Socratics etc, what you make of Kingsley's 'Ancient Philosophy, Mystery and Magic'. Despite all our differences, both DMB and I think that it's a great book - which must be something of a commendation...

I'll add you to my blogroll - great to have you around.

Paul Turner said...

Thanks for the positive comments guys. I think this area would be fascinating to get into in more detail but I won't be doing that just yet. I may pick up the book you mentioned at a later stage though, Sam.

Right now, I'm particularly interested in the origins and development of 'causality' and the links it has with 'essences' and 'Being' to see if the anti-essentialist 'dependent origination' of Buddhism emerged FROM a notion of causality peculiar to the east or IN REACTION TO a notion of causality which is shared with the west.