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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Secret of Greek Mythology

 Reincarnation is a belief that the soul is immortal, and will after the death of the body, will return to incarnate into a new body. 

Researchers and scholars who attempt to decode mythologies complex system of symbolism should, at the least, explore the eastern philosophical and spiritual beliefs. Even if one does not accept reincarnation, the Sages of India, Greece, Rome, Egypt, and Persia were so obsessed with the concept. Rebirth became a central tenet of their religious philosophy.

The ideas associated with reincarnation arose independently in many diverse regions and civilizations and spread because of cultural contact. Proponents of cultural transmission have searched for links between the ancient Celts, Greeks, and Vedic India, concluding there was a belief in reincarnation in the early Proto-Indo-European cultures. A belief in reincarnation may have organically appeared worldwide because of remembrances of past lives. 

Hinduism developed the concept of reincarnation and karma to its fullest extent,  (originating first in the Vedas). The Chinese Taoist, not earlier than the third century B.C., accepted reincarnation through the influence of Asian Buddhism. The Celtic Druids were well-known as believers. In later centuries, Neoplatonism, Orphism, Hermeticism, Manicheanism, and Gnosticism of the Roman era, accepted similar concepts of rebirth.


   From a spiritual perspective, indigenous cultures were based on the philosophical concept of Animism, which is a belief in no separation between the spiritual and physical (or material) worlds; souls or spirits exist, not only in humans, but also in all animals, plants, rocks, and geographic features, mountains or rivers and other aspects of the natural environment, including thunder and planets. It is a widespread belief among 'indigenous peoples,' and so fundamental and ingrained, there is no word in their languages corresponding to the concept. Animism rejects Cartesian dualism, a perception of the world based on the separation between minds (spiritual) and (physical) matter worlds. 

Animists perceive all of existence as a form of spirit. It’s a small step from this idea to assume humans also have a spiritual essence or immortal soul. Probably the belief in reincarnation evolved from "animism" as personal immortality is a natural consequence of perceiving that everything in the world contains an all-pervading spirit.


                            The Hindu View of Reincarnation

  "Just as a man discards worn out clothes and puts on new clothes, the soul discards worn out bodies and wears new ones. Bhagavad-Gita, 2:22

They link the process of reincarnation and the soul's salvation to Karma, which is based on the spiritual principle of cause and effect, where intent and actions of an individual determine the quality of their future life. Right actions lead to a high birth while evil actions lead to a problematic next life. The immortal soul accumulates either good or bad karma by its activities in previous lives and is judged after death, which determines what type of body and life it will experience next.

On a deeper level, the soul, which is really our own consciousness, learns from every event, both success, and failure–good and bad. Karma is more a matter of becoming conscious in each life. If you fail your spiritual lessons, the same situation appears again. It’s like flunking out of fifth grade then repeating the same lessons the next year. Those who reach a purified state of body, mind, and spirit, graduate to a higher level of consciousness or being. Eventually, the individual soul merges with the Godhead and reincarnates only by free choice.

Greek Philosophers and Metempsychosis

  Many of the most celebrated Greek philosophers such as Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato, believed in ‘metempsychosis.’ The Greek concept of reincarnation. Pythagoras was the first well-known 
Hellenic philosopher that taught about metempsychosis that the soul descended from the celestial realm of the stars into the body. He wrote;

  “Souls never die, but always on quitting one abode pass to another. All things change, nothing perishes. The soul passes hither and thither, occupying now this body, now that… As wax is stamped with certain figures, then melted, then stamped anew with others, yet it is always the same wax. So, the Soul being always the same yet wears at different time’s different forms.” 

   Pythagoras didn't invent the idea or import it from Egypt. Instead, he made his reputation by bringing the Orphic doctrine of metempsychosis or (reincarnation) from North-Eastern Hellas to Magna Graecia, and taught his students, allowing for its more significant diffusion. The great philosopher Socrates, the teacher of Plato, also believed in transmigration. Plato had written;

“Apply yourself both now and in the next life. Without effort, you cannot be prosperous. Though the land is good, you cannot have an abundant crop without cultivation.”

 Plato’s philosophy rested on the theme of “remembrance” and is linked directly to reincarnation, as found in the dialogue between Socrates and Meno.


   SOCRATES: As for myself, if the stingray paralyzes others only through being paralyzed itself, then the comparison is just, but not otherwise. It isn't that, knowing the answers myself, I perplex other people. The truth is rather that I infect them also with the perplexity I feel myself. So with virtue now, I don't know what it is. You may have known before you came into contact with me, but now you look as if you don't. Nevertheless, I am ready to carry out, together with you, a joint investigation and inquiry into what it is. 

  MENO: But how will you look for something when you don't in the least know what it is? How on earth are you going to set up something you don't know as the object of your search? To put it another way, even if you come right up against it, how will you know that what you have found is the thing you didn't know?

  MENO: What was it, and who were they?

  SOCRATES: Those who tell it are priests and priestesses of the sort who make it their business to be able to account for the functions which they perform. Pindar speaks of it too, and many other of the poets who are divinely inspired. What they say is this-see whether you think they are speaking the truth. 

They say that the soul of man is immortal. At one time it comes to an end-that which is called death-and at another is born again, but is never finally exterminated. On these grounds, a man must live all his days as righteously as possible. For those from whom;

Persephone receives requital for ancient doom,
In the ninth year, she restores again.
Their souls to the sun above
From whom rise noble Kings,
And the swift in strength and greatest in wisdom,
And for the rest of time
They are called heroes and sanctified by men. (1)

   "Thus the soul, since it is immortal and has been born many times, and has seen all things both here and in the other world, has learned everything that is.” (‘Meno,' 81, b)

   Socrates mentions the myth of Persephone who “receives a requital for ancient doom,” and “Their souls to the sun above." Socrates interprets the myth from the perspective of the immortal soul’s ascension from the underworld realm, of Persephone, to return back to the celestial sphere of the stars to be born again. Therefore, it is evident the Greek myths were allegories on reincarnation and personal salvation.

The Influence of Reincarnation on Plato’s Philosophy
In the above discussion, between Socrates and Meno, we see how a belief in metempsychosis influenced Plato’s theory of knowledge, (which was no doubt learned from his teacher Socrates). Plato thought all knowledge originated from within the soul. Past life experiences provided a reservoir of knowledge the mind could tap into. Between incarnations, the soul drank the waters of Lethe - (forgetfulness). One only had to remember the ancient archetypal past or personal past life experiences (through silencing the mind) to attain this knowledge. The concept of transmigration profoundly influenced Plato, enough to make it the foundation of his metaphysical philosophy.

For example; “The real weight and importance of metempsychosis in the Western tradition are due to its adoption by Plato. In the eschatological myth which closes the Republic, he tells the myth how Er, the son of Armenius, miraculously returned to life on the twelfth day after death and recounted the secrets of the other world. After death, he said, he went with others to the place of Judgment and saw the souls returning from heaven, and proceeded with them to a place where they chose new lives, human, and animal. He saw the soul of Orpheus changing into a swan, Thamyras becoming a nightingale, musical birds choosing to be men, the soul of Atalanta choosing the honors of an athlete. Men were seen passing into animals and wild and tame animals changing into each other. After their choice, the souls drank of Lethe and then shot away like stars to their birth. There are myths and theories to the same effect in other dialogues the Phaedrus, Menos, Phaedo, Timaeus, and Laws. In Plato's view, the number of souls was fixed; birth, therefore, is never the creation of a soul, but the only transmigration from one body to another.” (1) 

There are two aspects of reincarnation/ metempsychosis running through Greek mythology; The first is based on the evolution of consciousness through all lower forms of life (from plant to animal) and finally, human beings, which is a process similar to the Hindu theory of evolution. 
This concept helps us to understand Plato’s myth of passing through all the lower forms of creation, the swan, a nightingale or the wild beast. It is an allegory on the evolution of life, (which contradicts Darwinian evolution, in that, each incarnation is designed to increase consciousness).
The second aspect of the reincarnation depends on the growth of individual consciousness. Therefore; Reincarnation of the individual soul is the mechanism by which the human species evolves. 



From the perspective of “Spiritual Evolution,” three concepts differ from the traditional philosophy of reincarnation.

1. The human soul – is evolving toward a specific goal, “Enlightenment." 

2. The human body is evolving into a more refined vehicle for the soul-consciousness to express itself.

3. There is no beginning or end to consciousness; Our soul-consciousness transforms itself by taking on different limited forms (bodies) to learn different spiritual lessons and become an individualized form of all existence.

The possibility of personal enlightenment was conceded by the Greek Philosophers, but only after many incarnations. This search for higher consciousness was vitally important. The Greeks inscribed the aphorism “Know Thyself,” on the front entrance of the Temple of Apollo. Alluding to ones finding the immortal soul, or the self.

Western culture continues to have a jaundiced view of ancient spiritual beliefs. The many modern interpretations of mythology discount the Greek philosophers' belief in an“immortal soul,’ and "reincarnation." Yet the doctrine was widespread in ancient times and therefore is one of the keys to decoding mythology and religion.



2. Images: Pixabay @ Wikipedia

    Joseph Alexander 4/13/2016 edited 12/24/2016

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