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What Can We Learn from Ancient Wisdom?
Introduction by Peter Shepherd: Mafran is beginning today a series of articles that will look into the teachings of ancient philosophy and their relevance today. It will be great to make the true subject of philosophy apparent again. Modern philosophy is largely built on Aristotle's foundations and math on Pythagoras but they ignore the mystical meanings that were the originators' prime intention and practice - the Greek philosophers were founders of the ancient Mystery Schools, themselves building on Egyptian wisdom and spiritual techniques.
Many academic philosophers are only interested in semantics and abstractions because they have no inner life or practice and so mysticism has no reality for them. The 'Mystery' is Spirit, but really it has no mystery when experienced and not just pondered about; hence the initiations of those ancient times for those interested and capable of spiritual insight.
This is the nitty gritty, the question each of us is faced with: "Am I alone?" The question may be fleshed out...
Over to Mafran...
Did human nature evolve during the last 10,000 years of history? During the last 10,000 years of human history we have certainly increased our capacity for 'information' and for the use of technical tools. Are 'information' and technical tools representative of human nature? The answer is NO!
So, what is human nature? Has it evolved together with more information and more technology? "This is the question!" said Shakespeare, "To be or not to be?" Lots of jokes have been generated by this inquiry, but it is a very tough one! Do we really exist as responsible, aware, rational beings... or are we just puppets in the wind of Life?
This investigation about the real nature of Man has a long history. Thousand of intelligent thinkers have burned their brains for their entire life trying to make sense of human behavior. Conclusion: most humans still don't know 'who' or 'what' they are.
Lots of people go jumping and dancing across time as butterflies during the few hours of their springtime existence. This reminds me of the Zen "koan" that asks: "Are you a butterfly dreaming to be a human, or a human dreaming to be a butterfly?" Either way your quality of life is very poor! And this is the key: the quality of our life!
Obviously, the "quality of your life" cannot be very good if you don't know who or what you are. The first idea that comes to mind is that at the moment of our death we become just a "corpse". Honestly, I tell you that I don't like at all the idea of becoming just a corpse! So, I spent quite a bit of my human manifestation on this Planet Earth in order to find out "Who am I?"
Was I successful? I am gloriously proud to say YES! And it is not an answer that comes from the 'corpse,' nor from the 'ego' (that is the same as the corpse), but it is an answer that really derives from the certainty that I AM!
By now you already want to give up! This is getting way too difficult. Beside, nobody talks this way on TV, so there must be something wrong! This guy is weird, ridiculous, and bizarre, I better quit! Well, not really, because you are curious. That observation about the "quality of life" and the "corpse" may have something to it.
Yes, you are right! This is my trick, talking about obvious daily realities is important for you because you are alive and you want to have a good quality of life and you want to be sure that you are not just a corpse! And you are right!
I am here with the best intention to explain things in easy words, the same words that have been used across millennia by good people who wanted to understand human nature to have a better life and a reasonable hope for the future.
For example: "Wars, factions, and fighting," said Socrates as he looked forward to his last hour, "have no other origin than this same body and its lusts... We must set the soul free from it; we must behold things as they are. And having thus got rid of the foolishness of the body, we shall be pure and hold converse with the pure, and shall in our own selves have complete knowledge of the Incorruptible which is, I take it, no other than the very truth." (Socrates).
Socrates (469 - 399 B.C.) was a Greek philosopher and was condemned to death by the tribunal in Athens because of his clear and honest way of thinking and expressing himself. Socrates did not write anything. Most of his teachings are reported by his disciple Plato.
And again on his death bed, Socrates proclaimed: "I sought to persuade every man among you that he must look to himself, and seek virtue and wisdom before he looks to his private interests, and look to the state before he looks to the interests of the state; and that this should be the order which he observes in all his actions." (Socrates, as written by Plato in 'The Apology.')
Now let's read these quotes again and try to make sense of what Socrates is telling us in his last hour:
- "The body and its desires bring hatred, revenge, jealousy and, as a consequence, wars and suffering." Is this statement a reality today? Yes! The desire to overcome, to compete, to be more powerful, more rich, to have more possessions, is the struggle that brings great stress and unhappiness.
If we just look at an ecosystem in nature we see that adaptation and cooperation prevail. Order and organization are essential in every natural environment. This would correspond to good administration in human affairs. Robbing, cheating, lying, are not conductive of prosperity, but of unrest and confusion.
- "Seek virtue and wisdom" says Socrates. What does it mean? It means plainly: use your "intuition," the subtle aspect of your intelligence, the mental gift that allows you to understand the deep aspect of situations and events. Do not use impulsivity, brute force, aggression, and revenge. Stop, relax, let your superior intellect clarify every situation, be detached, be impersonal, do not sink in the mud like an animal!