Sunday, 29 October 2017

The 12 Most Important Ethical-Moral Philosophy Writings of All-Time

Modern technocratic capitalist society prides itself in its scientific advances and material comfort, at least for those who live in the developed western world. However, the ethical problem seems to have slipped away somehow. Religion no longer knows how to inspire morality, philosophers get lost in specialized theoretical speculations, and politicians like to legislate the loftiest ethical visions that have no way of being applied practically. Why not turn to the ancients? They had both the theoretical and practical aspects well in hand, inspiring right moral conduct with insight, wit and culture.

1- Shantideva (8th century) - Bodhisattvacaryāvatāra. "A Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life"
Before reading Shantideva, I thought I knew what compassion was; what did I know? Nothing. This one is a dark horse candidate, not having been fully translated into English until the early 1960s, but since the explosion of Buddhism in the last 30 years, this timeless jewel of Mahayana ethics has skyrocketed to prominence.
2- Marcus Tullius Cicero (106 BC –43 BC) - De Officiis (On Duties or On Obligations)
This work was the second most printed work besides the Bible in the 17th century and has been hugely influential on enlightenment ethics. It was eclipsed in the 20th century, but is making a comeback. Its eloquent, erudite blend of deontology, virtue and utilitarian ethics set the standard for ethics in cosmopolitan societies.
3- Confucius (551 BC – 479 BC) - Analects
Confucious devoted his life to studying and promoting ethics and is a consummate master in the art of the pithy ethical aphorism. It was eclipsed in the 20th century, but is making a comeback.
4- Epictetus. (c. AD 55 – 135) - Enchiridion. or Manual of Epictetus
His reputation for living the ethical  life that he tirelessly taught made him respected by all the philosophical schools of antiquity. A master in understanding how to regulate the mind to achieve serenity. It was eclipsed in the 20th century, but is making a comeback.
5- Svayambhuva Manu - Manusmṛti or Laws of Manu
Encapsulating what is best in Hindu tradition, this work understands the importance of ethical education for all phases of life, from the earliest childhood to the very end of life and beyond.
Before reading The Imitation of Christ, I thought I knew what charity was; what did I know? Nothing. This work is the second most printed Christian work, next to the Bible. It was eclipsed in the 20th century, but is making a comeback.
7- Maimonides (1135 or 1138 - 1204) - Guide for the Perplexed
Maimonides was one of the greatest philosophers of the medieval era who wrote prolifically. Fortunately for us, he summarized his ideas in one volume for the edification of countless readers since.
8- Sa'di (c. 1208- 1291 /1294) - Gulistan  ("The Rose Garden")
Ethical works are known for being stern and serious, so this work is probably the most enjoyable work to read on this list. With charming poetic stories, fables and anecdotes, this Sufi author created one of the most popular and edifying books of all time.
9- Plato  (428/427 or 424/423 – 348/347 BC) -  Gorgias
The inspired speech of Socrates on the importance of the ethical life in the final part of this classic dialogue set the agenda for most western ethical enquiry to follow.
10- Patanjali (5th c. BCE to 4th c. CE) - Yoga sūtras
This one is the comeback success story. The Theosophical Society helped revive this neglected classic of yoga philosophy and its influence since then has been remarkable; no self-respecting meditation teacher can do without it.
11- Seneca (c. 4 BC – AD 65) - Moral letters to Lucilius 

Seneca was active in all facets of Roman life, literature and politics and this work is probably the most concerned with practical ethical problems pertaining to urban living. It was eclipsed in the 20th century, but is making a comeback.
12- Plutarch (c. AD 46 – AD 120) - Moralia
This large 14-volume set is not all about ethics, but largely so.  A proud and accomplished custodian of the finest heritage of Greek civilisation, he answers all the questions on how to behave with elegance in a wide variety of situations of city living. It was eclipsed in the 20th century, but is making a comeback.

Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Jean-Marie Ragon on Universal Masonry and Brother/Sisterhood

Blavatsky had great respect for the legendary founder of the Lodge of Trinosophists and his erudite works are remarkably close in spirit to the later Theosophical movement. (See for example, Isis Unveiled 2, chapter 8) Could there be a mysterious connection between the two? This remains a mystery, as is his trip to the United States in the early 1850s. There has happily been an English translation of La Messe et ses Mystères recently, a first. This text from the fine introduction to Cours philosophique et interprétatif des initiations anciennes et modernes, 1841.

It is said that a building is ready to crumble when you can see its foundations. In that regard, masonry is imperishable; because for a long time it has been agreed and repeated that its origin is lost in the dawn of time. Its temple has time for duration and the universe for space. An instrument of civilisation, that dates from the first civilised people, Masonry proceeds with art, its means are sure, its term remains unknown until one has arrived at it. It has as a basis the gratitude towards the first Being and the study of nature; as appeal and as a veil,  mystery; as a key, allegory; as a bond, morality; as a goal, the perfection and happiness of humankind; and as result, good actions.

Working towards the emancipation of human intelligence, and wanting to escape the shadowy suspicions of civil authority and sacerdotal intolerance of all ages, it has had to surround itself in mystery, precautions and often pointless ceremonies. Always campaigning to break down the obstacles that are opposed to the progress of enlightenment, it has not always had the leisure to build, because of the silence and precautions that have accompanied its march through the centuries; perhaps now we are arriving at a period where its theories will in part be realized. Villains have said, divide and conquer, the first masons said unite to resist; and, under the allegory of the immaterial temple erected to the Great Architect of the Universe by the wise of all climates, and which columns, symbols of strength and wisdom, are everywhere crowned with the pomegranates of friendship.

Masonry is comprised of the elite of generous and beneficient people  from every nation, taken from all social classes. Ignoring distinctions of pre-eminence, it only recognizes those that shine through talents and the virtue of perseverance in a common work is the condition of its existence. A body does not exist without a soul, a society without a fundamental principle of association, and so masonry presents by its affiliations a universal hierarchy based on fraternity, liberty, and equality. The words liberty, equality used by our lodges have a meaning that is foreign to politics, and are purely moral. The liberty of the masons is the reasoned obedience which is opposed to passive obedience, which is slavery.Without equality, masonry falls into inertia; but it is not that monstrous equality, daughter of anarchy, that only brings destructive licence. The regeneration of primitive equality, approved by reason and demanded by social ties, is one of the fundamental principles of its institution, its indestructible principle.

Moreover, masonry never gets involved in questions of government or civil and religious legislation and, while guiding its members towards the perfection of all the sciences, it positively excludes, in its lodges, two, although the most beautiful, politics and theology, because those two sciences divided people and cultures which Masonry constantly strives to unite. Amongst the social confederations and in the shadow of political governments, it founded a confederation of people that established a universal government, always even and peaceful, and which was maintained without coercive laws. It captivates the spirit and the heart by gentleness and the wisdom of its maxims, which are based in the love of humanity. Admitting any virtuous individual to share its benefits, and drawing its members from all nations, friend or enemy, it makes its empire universal.

The rich learn the generous aversion to gold; the military, that they are more fit for loving and protecting people than for destroying them; the politicians, that customs, opinions, and patriotism, and not armies, are the force of States; but that there is no bond without trust, and no trust without just, impartial, and irrevocable laws for all; despots and those inclined to despotism, that the equal to the equal cannot be master of their equal, and those who are obliged to enforce laws are themselves under those laws; citizens, that they must be left to their own devices, to their own merit so that everyone, on their own, can become what they can be. Masons, that they are, in Masonry and in the world, but students of the law; that they cannot nor must they change it; they need only desire it clear and formal, so that it will never need commentary or interpretation, and finally the high initiates, that they must derive from Masonic morality that same advantage that Aristotle was said to have derived from philosophy, and made him do, without being ordered, what others do only through fear of the laws.

When the Egyptian priests said All for the people, nothing by the people, they were right when a people is ignorant; the truth must only be told to good people; but with an enlightened people, that maxim, that formed the basis of the twofold Egyptian doctrine and was perpetuated in Europe until the seventeenth century, is absurd. We have seen in our time, All by the people, nothing for the people, a false and dangerous system. The true maxim is this: All for the people and with the people. It is applicable today. (pp. 17-22)

Masonry is not a religion. Those who make it a religious belief falsify and distort it. The Brahman, the Jew, the Muslim, the Christian, the Protestant, that have their religion sanctioned by the laws, the times, and the climates must conserve it, and their cannot be two religions because the social and sacred laws appropriate for the needs, customs and prejudices of whatever country, are human products. Masonry, whose inspirations are of high import, is the summary of divine and human wisdom, that is, of all the perfections that can bring people the closest to Divinity.

It is a universal morality that fits all inhabitants of all climates, people of all cults. Like them, it does not receive the law, it gives it, because its morality, one and unchageing, is more extensive and more universal than those of local religions, always exclusive, because it classifies individuals as pagans, idolaters, sectarian schismatics, infidels while Masonry only sees, in all those religionaries but people, brothers and sisters to which it opens its temple to free them from the prejudices of their countries, of the mistakes of the religions of their ancestors, by bringing them to love and help one another: because Masons deplore and flee error, but neither hate nor persecute it. (p. 37)

Thursday, 12 October 2017

Theosophy Basics: Will, Force, Matter

Probably one of the most difficult aspects of Blavatsky’s writing are the instances where she presents comparative examples of ancient mythology/theology. It helps to organize this information in charts and tables. On page 56 of Isis Unveiled vol. I, we encounter one of the first instances of these challenging passages – it presents an introductiory explanation of the basic theosophical trinitarian metaphysics, sometimes called the triple logos in later writings, here designated as Will, Force and Matter. The examples can be found mainly in middle platonic and neoplatonic sources.
"the Will which becomes Force, and creates or organizes matter"
1a- Plato Timaeus
** See Movers' "Explanations," 268
Demiurgic Mind (Nous)    
Primal Being   
Idea of the to be created world
1b- Plato
Plutarch, "Isis and Osiris," i., vi.
Father – Divine Thought
Mother - Matter
Cosmos, the Son
2a- Chaldean Oracles
* Cory: "Chaldean Oracles," 243.
Intellectual, spiritual Light of the Father
Soul that adorns great heaven(works of nature)
2b- Chaldean Oracles
Cory: "Fragments," 240.
Mundane God, old
Winding form Aether/astral light
Mundane God, young
3- Philo
** Philo Judaeus: "On the Creation," x.
Divine Reason 
Incorporeal world
4- Theogony of Mochus
Movers: "Phoinizer," 282.
Ulom (intelligible God –visible universe of matter)
5- Orphic Hymns
K. O. Muller, 236.
Spiritual Egg
Aethereal Wind (Spirit of God)
Divine Idea - Eros-Phanes
6- Katakopanisad
Weber: "Akad. Vorles," 213, 214, etc.
Purusha Divine Spirit
Original Matter
Soul of the World (Atma, Brahm, Spirit of Life)
7- Egypt
"Spirit History of Man," p. 88
(Demiurgic Mind)
Older Horus -  Idea of world in Demiurgic Mind
Younger Horus - Idea from Logos clothed with matter

Years ago the old German philosopher, Schopenhauer, disposed of this force and matter at the same time; and since the conversion of Mr. Wallace, the great anthropologist has evidently adopted his ideas. Schopenhauer's doctrine is that the universe is but the manifestation of the will. Every force in nature is also an effect of will, representing a higher or lower degree of its objectiveness. It is the teaching of Plato, who stated distinctly that everything visible was created or evolved out of the invisible and eternal WILL, and after its fashion. Our Heaven — he says — was produced according to the eternal pattern of the "Ideal World," contained, as everything else, in the dodecahedron, the geometrical model used by the Deity.* With Plato, the Primal Being is an emanation of the Demiurgic Mind (Nous), which contains from the eternity the "idea" of the "to be created world" within itself, and which idea he produces out of himself.** The laws of nature are the established relations of this idea to the forms of its manifestations; "these forms," says Schopenhauer, "are time, space, and causality. Through time and space the idea varies in its numberless manifestations."
* Plato: "Timaeus Soerius," 97.
** See Movers' "Explanations," 268.
 [[Vol. 1, Page]] 56 THE VEIL OF ISIS.
These ideas are far from being new, and even with Plato they were not original. This is what we read in the Chaldean Oracles:* "The works of nature co-exist with the intellectual [[noerio]], spiritual Light of the Father. For it is the soul [[psuche]] which adorned the great heaven, and which adorns it after the Father."
"The incorporeal world then was already completed, having its seat in the Divine Reason," says Philo** who is erroneously accused of deriving his philosophy from Plato's.
In the Theogony of Mochus, we find AEther first, and then the air; the two principles from which Ulom, the intelligible [[noetos]] God (the visible universe of matter) is born.***
In the Orphic hymns, the Eros-Phanes evolves from the Spiritual Egg, which the AEthereal winds impregnate, Wind**** being "the spirit of God," who is said to move in AEther, "brooding over the Chaos" — the Divine "Idea."
In the Hindu Katakopanisad, Purusha, the Divine Spirit, already stands before the original matter, from whose union springs the great Soul of the World, "Maha =Atma, Brahm, the Spirit of Life";***** these latter appellations are identical with the Universal Soul, or Anima Mundi, and the Astral Light of the theurgists and kabalists.
Pythagoras brought his doctrines from the eastern sanctuaries, and Plato compiled them into a form more intelligible than the mysterious numerals of the sage — whose doctrines he had fully embraced — to the uninitiated mind. Thus, the Cosmos is "the Son" with Plato, having for his father and mother the Divine Thought and Matter.******
"The Egyptians," says Dunlap,******* "distinguish between an older and younger Horus, the former the brother of Osiris, the latter the son of Osiris and Isis." The first is the Idea of the world remaining in the Demiurgic Mind, "born in darkness before the creation of the world." The second Horus is this "Idea" going forth from the Logos, becoming clothed with matter, and assuming an actual existence.********
Older Horus Idea of world in Demiurgic Mind –- Logos  Younger Horus Idea from Logos clothed with matter
"The mundane God, eternal, boundless, young and old, of winding form," ********* say the Chaldean Oracles.
This "winding form" is a figure to express the vibratory motion of the Astral Light, with which the ancient priests were perfectly well acquainted, though they may have differed in views of ether, with modern scientists; for in the AEther they placed the Eternal Idea pervading the Universe, or the Will which becomes Force, and creates or organizes matter.
* Cory: "Chaldean Oracles," 243.
** Philo Judaeus: "On the Creation," x.
*** Movers: "Phoinizer," 282.
**** K. O. Muller, 236.
***** Weber: "Akad. Vorles," 213, 214, etc.
****** Plutarch, "Isis and Osiris," i., vi.
******* "Spirit History of Man," p. 88.
******** Movers: "Phoinizer," 268.
********* Cory: "Fragments," 240.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Through the Gates of Gold, Chapter 1, The Search for Pleasure, part 7

We have arrived at the concluding part of Chapter 1, The Search for Pleasure, which is a long one because besides discussing the concept of pleasure, there is also a general exhortation to consider the path leading to the Gates of Gold. There is an alchemical style adopted here, with references to the search for immortality via the elixir of life and the making of gold.

The dangers of pursuing sensual pleasures are explained, which is akin to developing an addiction:
When a man drinks his first cup of pleasure his soul is filled with the unutterable joy that comes with a first, a fresh sensation. The drop of poison that he puts into the second cup, and which, if he persists in that folly, has to become doubled and trebled till at last the whole cup is poison, — that is the ignorant desire for repetition and intensification; this evidently means death, according to all analogy. The child becomes the man; he cannot retain his childhood and repeat and intensify the pleasures of childhood except by paying the inevitable price and becoming an idiot. The plant strikes its roots into the ground and throws up green leaves; then it blossoms and bears fruit. That plant which will only make roots or leaves, pausing persistently in its development, is regarded by the gardener as a thing which is useless and must be cast out.

He outlines a path of deeper pleasure, which is the path of the elixir of life:
”The man who chooses the way of effort, and refuses to allow the sleep of indolence to dull his soul, finds in his pleasures a new and finer joy each time he tastes them, — a something subtile and remote which removes them more and more from the state in which mere sensuousness is all; this subtile essence is that elixir of life which makes man immortal. He who tastes it and who will not drink unless it is in the cup finds life enlarge and the world grow great before his eager eyes.” 
One can uses the senses, but in a more spiritualized perspective:
He recognizes the soul within the woman he loves, and passion becomes peace; he sees within his thought the finer qualities of spiritual truth, which is beyond the action of our mental machinery, and then instead of entering on the treadmill of intellectualisms he rests on the broad back of the eagle of intuition and soars into the fine air where the great poets found their insight; he sees within his own power of sensation, of pleasure in fresh air and sunshine, in food and wine, in motion and rest, the possibilities of the subtile man, the thing which dies not either with the body or the brain. The pleasures of art, of music, of light and loveliness, — within these forms, which men repeat till they find only the forms, he sees the glory of the Gates of Gold, and passes through to find the new life beyond which intoxicates and strengthens, as the keen mountain air intoxicates and strengthens, by its very vigor.

It leads to immortality:
But if he has been pouring, drop by drop, more and more of the elixir of life into his cup, he is strong enough to breathe this intense air and to live upon it. Then if he die or if he live in physical form, alike he goes on and finds new and finer joys, more perfect and satisfying experiences, with every breath he draws in and gives out.

Relevant Passages from Light on the Path:

To obtain the pure silence necessary for the disciple, the heart and emotions, the brain and its intellectualisms, have to be put aside. Both are but mechanisms, which will perish with the span of man's life. It is the essence beyond, that which is the motive power, and makes man live, that is now compelled to rouse itself and act. Now is the greatest hour of danger. In the first trial men go mad with fear; of this first trial Bulwer Lytton wrote. No novelist has followed to the second trial, though some of the poets have. Its subtlety and great danger lies in the fact that in the measure of a man's strength is the measure of his chance of passing beyond it or coping with it at all. If he has power enough to awaken that unaccustomed part of himself, the supreme essence, then has he power to lift the gates of gold, then is he the true alchemist, in possession of the elixir of life. (Comments, 2)

There are four proven and certain truths with regard to the entrance to occultism. The Gates of Gold bar that threshold; yet there are some who pass those gates and discover the sublime and illimitable beyond. In the far spaces of Time all will pass those gates. But I am one who wish that Time, the great deluder, were not so over-masterful. To those who know and love him I have no word to say; but to the others — and there are not so very few as some may fancy — to whom the passage of Time is as the stroke of a sledge-hammer, and the sense of Space like the bars of an iron cage, I will translate and re-translate until they understand fully. (Comments, 1)

Here’s a link to a related text, using the same alchemical themes, The Elixir of Life by Godolphin Mitford, which appeared around the same time as Light on the Path: