Friday, 15 January 2016

The Mahabharata and the Iliad compared - a symbolic interpretation

Image from Yogananda's commentary on the Baghavad Gita.

''Had the Rt. Hon. W. E. Gladstone, who prides himself on his Greek scholarship and understanding of the spirit of Homer's allegories, ever had a real inkling of the esoteric meaning of the Iliad and Odyssey, he would have understood St. John's "Revelation," and even the Pentateuch, better than he does. For the way to the Bible lies through Hermes, Bel, and Homer, as the way to these is through the Hindu and Chaldean religious symbols.'' (H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine 2, 383)
As William Q. Judge observes, it is interesting to look at a symbolic meaning to various myths and legends:
"This valuable privilege of looking for the inner sense, while not straining after impossible meanings in the text, is permitted to all sincere students of any holy scriptures, Christian or Pagan....The moment we are aware of its existence in the poem, our inner self is ready to help the outer man to grasp after it; and in the noble pursuit of these great philosophical and moral truths, which is only our eternal endeavor to realize them as a part of our being, we can patiently wait for a perfect knowledge of the anatomy and functions of the inner man."
Following certain indications given by William Q Judge, and T. Subba Row on their commentaries on the Baghavad Gita, I've sketched out some symbolic correspondences with the theosophical sevenfold principles with the various characters in the great Indian epic, the Mahabharata, of which the Gita is a part:
Pandavas – Higher Self – (Hastinapura – Atma )
Kauravas – Lower Self
Dhritarashra –Material world.
Pandu – Spiritual World
Atma – Krishna
Buddhi – Draupadi
Manas – Arjuna
Kama Manas – Yudhisthira (Manas aspect) – Duryodana (Kama aspect)
Linga Sharira – Bhima
Prana Sharira – Nakula
Sthula Sharira – Sahadeva
Interestingly, there exists a system of Hindu myth interepretation in the Kriya Yoga system. See for examples the commentaries on the Baghavad Gita by Lahiri Mahasay and Paramahansa Yogananda.
Moreover, there has always been a tendency to notice the similarities between various myths. This can give depth and a wider perspective to one’s interpretations. For example, one could compare the epic battle of the Pandavas and Kauravas of the Mahabharata to the Trojan War epic of Greece and there have been several studies recently which have noted striking similarities. (See for example:
The Neoplatonists have similar symbolic interpretations of myth to the Theosophical one. Sallustios, the neoplatonist, gives 5 keys to myth interpretation:
1- Theological (Essence of the gods, ex. Kronos=Intellectual world) (Philosophers)
2- Physical (Activities of gods in the world, ex. Kronos=Time) (Poets)
3- Psychic (Activities of the soul itself) (Poets)
4- Material (Equating material substances with divine natures, ex. Isis=Earth)
5- Mixed psychic & material (Religious Initiation myths, ex. Attis)
Moreover, Thomas Taylor in his "The Wandering of Ulysses"
gives a passage from the neoplatonist Hermeas, explaining the basic symbolism of the Iliad:
"By Ilion we must understand the generated material place, which is so denominated from mud and matter (para ten iloun kai ten oulen), and in which there are war and sedition. But the Trojans are material forms, and all the lives which subsist about bodies. Hence, also, the Trojans are called genuine (ithageneis). For all the lives which subsist about bodies, and irrational souls, are favourable and attentive to their proper matter. On the contrary, the Greeks are rational souls, coming from Greece, i.e. from the intelligible into matter. Hence, the Greeks are called foreigners (Epeiloudes) and vanquish the Trojans, as being of a superior order."
Indeed, this symbolic explanation is similar to ones given for the Mahabharata. So one can equate the Pandavas with the Achaeans or Greeks and the Kuravas with the Trojans. Moreover, these two myths can be considered part examples of the theosophical theme of the War in Heaven ( and in more general terms, the symbolic notion of the Holy War, which according to Berzin, "in both religions (Islam and Buddhism), the main emphasis is on the internal spiritual battle against one’s own ignorance and destructive ways".(see A. Berzin's text, Holy Wars in Buddhism and Islam)
Moreover, H. P. Blavatsky mentions a connection between Homer and another classic Indian epic, the Ramayana (Isis Unveiled 2, 278), and scholars have noted the similarities between the Ramayana and Homer's Odyssey.

great Canadian group of seven painter and Theosophist Lawren Harris  has LA exhibition:

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