Sages and Philosophers - World History

Sages and Philosophers - World History
Posted on 28-12-2022

Sages and Philosophers ( 530 ) Confucius, Buddha, Pythagoras, Heraclitus.

In the last years of the sixth century notable thinkers arose in the most distant points of the civilized world. Since the beginning of the century, divergent currents regarding the official Brahmanical religion had emerged in India. They were interested in the more philosophical aspects of Brahmanism: the relationship between the body and the soul, reincarnation, etc., relegating rituals to the background, often giving an allegorical interpretation. One of these currents was developed by a group of mystics who withdrew into the woods and compiled a series of abstruse treatises known as the Upanisads . (which means something like "sit next to the teacher"). The philosophy of the Upanisads is monistic, in the sense that it considers matter an illusion and conceives the Universe as a spiritual unity, in contrast to the dualistic philosophy known as Samkhya, attributed to Kapila .(who perhaps lived in the previous century), according to which there are two eternal realities: one is matter, or the world of appearances, and the other is made up of an infinite number of individual souls. Each soul is a prisoner of its body, to which it believes it is linked, and it only achieves salvation when it understands its different nature, and assimilates that it is only a spectator, not an actor, in the world, and frees itself from desires, coming from the world. body.

This Samkhya current was the starting point of what can no longer be classified as a current, but rather as heresy regarding Brahmanism. Its creator was Vardhamana, son of a clan chief, born near Vaisali. He considered that the only way in which the soul could come to understand its nature independent of the body, endowed with unlimited wisdom, power and goodness, and thus achieve its liberation, was through a rigorously ascetic life. He thus applied it to his own person and, after twelve years of severe asceticism, at the age of forty-two, he attained full spiritual knowledge and became a Mahavira . (the venerable). For the next thirty years he toured the region teaching his system, which was called Jainism (control of the passions). His followers were organized in communities without a specific regulation, which later divided into two rival factions: the white dresses and the air dresses,so called because the first ones were dressed and the second ones were naked. It was forbidden to take the life of any animated being, as well as lying, theft, sensuality and all kinds of earthly ties. There were also lay people who, without abandoning the world, made the same vows, but substituting celibacy for a chaste life, and absolute renunciation for reducing their belongings to the essential minimum. Jainism does not recognize any god, but faith is interpreted as the correct knowledge of the relationship between matter and thought. Jains were unable to engage in any activities like agriculture, fishing etc.,

In 530 Kongfuzi (Master Kong), whom we know as Confucius, began to teach in China. His teachings were mostly about social ethics. He tutored a group of disciples who ended up occupying prominent positions in the government, giving them the opportunity to put his teacher's ideas into practice. For Confucius and his disciples, the sage spreads an order that extends from the individual to the entire universe. Man must respect this principle of order, taking the example of the wise men and great men of the past. The Confucian virtues are the rein, compassion or sympathy that induces to help others, and yi, equity that leads to respect for others' property and social position. Wisdom is achieved through study, reflection and effort, and its goal is to reach the ideal of a superior, serene, virtuous, wise and upright man, who has assimilated the principle of universal order and can do what he pleases without transgressing it. .

Confucius attributes a divine nature to the principle of universal order, but otherwise takes an agnostic stance, and does not accept religious myths and rituals. Contrary to what one might think, this rationalist agnosticism was well received by the people. While the Jews could attribute their vicissitudes to a divine punishment for their sins, the Chinese scrupulously complied with religious rites, and this did not prevent from time to time floods or periods of drought, without the gods seeming to respond to the due sacrifices. Thus it began to be doubted that the gods really took care of the world and that there was any point in trying to relate to them. To this we must add that the official religion was in the hands of the Wu sorcerers, at the service of the King, and at that time they were very discredited. There were stories of a king who ordered a Wu to shoot arrows at dolls representing the nobles who did not come when they were summoned to the palace, or of another who used a Wu to find possible conspirators, with which the population was so frightened that they barely communicated by signs. These are obviously exaggerations, but they show that the Wu religion made the people uncomfortable. There were stories of a king who ordered a Wu to shoot arrows at dolls representing the nobles who did not come when they were summoned to the palace, or of another who used a Wu to find possible conspirators, with which the population was so frightened that they barely communicated by signs. These are obviously exaggerations, but they show that the Wu religion made the people uncomfortable. There were stories of a king who ordered a Wu to shoot arrows at dolls representing the nobles who did not come when they were summoned to the palace, or of another who used a Wu to find possible conspirators, with which the population was so frightened that they barely communicated by signs. These are obviously exaggerations, but they show that the Wu religion made the people uncomfortable. with which the population was so frightened that they barely communicated by signs. These are obviously exaggerations, but they show that the Wu religion made the people uncomfortable. with which the population was so frightened that they barely communicated by signs. These are obviously exaggerations, but they show that the Wu religion made the people uncomfortable.

In reality, Confucianism was only one of many lines of thought that arose in China as a reaction against traditional religion. Another, no less important, was the one initiated by Lao-Tzu, about whom there is little information, but it seems that he was a historian and astrologer in the royal court. He wrote a book called Tao-Te-King, in which he laid the foundations of Taoism, a mystical religion that can be practiced alone. Taoism preaches meditation, stillness, and inactivity. His philosophy is "do nothing to achieve everything",You have to let nature take its course. Heaven and Earth remain because they are the materialization of an immutable reality that creates without effort or object. The greatest virtue of the sage is contemplation, impregnating himself with the Tao to the point of identifying with it as an impersonal ultimate reality and molding his own existence to its incessant and silent action. It is said that Confucius had rejected Lao-tzu as an incomprehensible dreamer.

Around this time an Ionian named Xenophanes left his hometown, Colophon, and decided to emigrate to Sicily, away from the Persians. He later went to Elea, where he founded a school of thought known as the Eleatic School, the most important figures of which would emerge in the following century. Xenophanes is mainly remembered for his idea that the existence of seashells in mountainous regions is an indication that certain regions were once submerged under the sea.

Another illustrious Ionian was Pythagoras of Samos, who, like other Greeks, took advantage of the unity of the great Persian Empire to travel through its confines. Pythagoras studied in Babylonia and even visited India. When he returned to his homeland, Samos, he found it ruled by the tyrant Polycrates, while he was part of the aristocracy he had overthrown. He found life on Samos unbearable and in 529 he left for Crotona, the southern Italian colony, where he had heard the culture flourished.

There he founded a very peculiar institution. Both men and women could enter, but they had to take a vow of chastity and promise never to drink wine, eggs or beans (we will never know why). They had to dress simply and decently, laughter was prohibited, and at the end of each course the students had to make a public self-criticism, confessing any violation of the rules that they had committed. The students were divided into external and internal. The latter were those who lived in the institution itself. Only these could see the teacher, and this after four years of initiation. Until then I sent them the lessons in writing, signed with authos epha(he has said it), indicating that there was no room for discussion.

If Thales was the first scientist, we could say that Pythagoras was the first university student. Timon of Athens, who admired him intellectually, said that he was solemn to the point of pedantry, that he had achieved importance by copying it himself. He called himself a philosopher (friend of learning), a term that would eventually be applied to all Greek thinkers. In his discoveries there was little original. Most of them were things he had learned in Egypt and Babylon. His teachings were about numbers, geometry, music and astronomy, always devoid of any possible (at the same time negligible) practical application. It seems that Pythagoras was the first to affirm that the Earth is a sphere that rotates on itself. To these really promising facts, he added silly superstitions (perhaps borrowed from Hinduism), such as that, after death, the soul leaves the body and, after a stay in Hades (the Greek hell), he incarnates again in a newborn. He himself remembered being a famous courtesan in another life, and then a leading hero of the Trojan War.

Another prominent figure at the time was Heraclitus. He was born in Ephesus, one of the Greek cities in Asia Minor. He was more arrogant than Pythagoras and, in addition, a misanthrope. He despised practically everything around him, he even wrote:

The great culture is of little use. If it were enough to form geniuses, they would be until Hesiod and Pythagoras. Wisdom does not consist in learning many things, but in discovering the one thing that regulates them all on all occasions.

With this way of thinking, Heraclitus decided to abandon everything and go live on a mountain. He spent his entire life meditating. He compiled his conclusions in a book called On Nature, little less than incomprehensible, since apparently he did not want mediocre men to understand him, and with this he earned the nickname of Heraclitus the dark one. The basis of his philosophy was that reality is a continuous change: everything flows, nothing remains.All reality is the incessant change of a single principle: fire. Gases arise from it, which then condense into liquids and solids arise from their residues when they evaporate. The universe is fire in different states. There are no gods. How could there be an eternal and immutable god, if it has already become clear that everything is changeable? The only thing that in a certain sense we could call "god" is fire, but keeping in mind that fire is neither good nor bad, nor does it distinguish between good and evil. We call "good" what it is convenient for us to call "good", but our judgment is not endorsed by that of any anthropomorphic god. The existence of something necessarily entails the possibility of changing its opposite. There can be no day without night, wealth without poverty, life without death. The change of something into its opposite is an inevitable necessity. The wise man must understand the need for opposites to exist, and resign himself to pain, poverty or illness as necessary complements to pleasure, wealth or health.

By this time Epidaurus had gained fame , a city in the Argolis to which all the sick in Greece flocked. There was the temple of Asclepios, a god specialized in miraculous healings. Many tombstones have been found with inscriptions like this:

Oh Asclepios, oh desired, oh invoked god, how could I be led into your temple if you yourself do not lead me there, oh invoked god who surpasses in splendor the splendor of the Earth and of spring? And this is the prayer of Diophantus: Save me, oh helper god, save me from this drop, that only you can, oh merciful god, only you on earth and in heaven. Oh merciful god, oh god of all miracles, thanks to you I have been healed, oh holy god, oh blessed god, thanks to you, thanks to you Diophantus will no longer walk like a crab, but will have good feet, as you have wanted .

The temple was surrounded by porticoes seventy-four meters long, where pilgrims came and, after taking a mandatory bath, they could enter the temple. We do not know what kind of cures were dispensed there. The priests of Asclepios were probably tricksters, but it is also possible that they knew some rudiments of medicine based on herbs and hot springs. In any case, the main ingredient of the cures was undoubtedly the suggestion of the spectacular ceremonies.

in 527the Athenian tyrant Pisistratus died. On a couple of occasions he had been forced to relinquish power (and the city), but he managed to regain it soon after. He finally earned the respect of his fellow citizens, since at no time did he retaliate or try to establish a police regime. On the contrary, he organized free elections for the archons, submitted to the control of the Senate and the Assembly, and even when someone accused him of murder, his response was a lawsuit in court. He won the case because the accuser did not show up. His authority was based on an overwhelming personality. He did what he wanted, but only after they had convinced the others that it was also what they wanted to do. Among his most notable reforms was an agrarian reform whereby he destroyed large estates in favor of small owners. He had established that at his death he would be replaced by his two sons,Hippias and Hipparchus, and so it was. They continued their father's policy and Athens continued to progress economically and culturally.

In 525 Pharaoh Ahmés II died and was succeeded by his son Psaméticus III, who that same year had to face the disaster for which his father had been preparing Egypt: The Persian king Cambyses II had finished ordering the eastern part of his empire and now headed towards Egypt. There was a meeting in Pelusium, east of the delta, but the Persian troops overwhelmed the Egyptians without difficulty. Cambyses II then took Memphis, accepted the surrender without resistance from the Libyans, marched south, sacked Thebes and entered Nubia, placed the northern part of the country under his control, and returned to Memphis for supplies.

The Egyptians described Cambyses II in their history as a cruel ruler, but, as on other occasions, "cruel" can simply mean "foreigner". They said that Cambyses II was defeated in Nubia (which is not probable), and that when he returned to Memphis he found the Egyptians in a celebration. He imagined that they were celebrating his defeat and he flew into a rage. The Egyptians explained that the party was due to the fact that they had found a bull that met some demanding requirements that showed that it was the god Apis, which promised good harvests. Cambyses II, still angry, drew his sword and struck the bull, which for the Egyptians was an abominable sacrilege.

In 524 the Greek city of Cumae, in Italy, defeated an Etruscan-Italic coalition. The Greek troops were led by Aristodemus, who shortly after would become tyrant of Cumae. This defeat did not seem to significantly affect Etruscan power in Italy, not even in Campania, the region of Cumae, but the truth is that this date can be considered the beginning of Etruscan decline, which would continue to accentuate in the following decades.

In 523 , Siddhartha Gautama, known as Buddha (the enlightened one) , began to preach in India . He was born in the Lumbini forest ,on the slopes of the Himalayas. His father was the head of a village and his mother had died a few days after his birth. At that time in India there were very diverse societies. Some were still in the Neolithic, others were under Aryan domination, and among them some were beginning to develop economically and culturally. Gautama had an easy and sheltered childhood, married and had a son, but at the age of 29 he was moved by all the suffering he saw around him and decided to leave his family and indulge in asceticism. Finally, meditating at the foot of a tree, he attained enlightenment and became a Buddha, when he began to spread his teachings. He had the friendship and protection of King Bimbisara of Magadha.

Buddha accepted some ideas from Hinduism, such as the reincarnation of souls, although he conceived it in a weaker sense: the soul is an aggregate of five elements:

  1. The body and the senses
  2. the feelings and sensations,
  3. sensory perception,
  4. the volitions and mental faculties,
  5. reason or conscience.

These elements are constantly changing and their union dissolves with death. What is transmitted in reincarnations is not the soul, but the karma that it has accumulated, a flow of energy that covers one body after another until it reaches the ultimate goal, called nirvana. Like Jainism, Buddhism is a godless religion. According to Buddha there are four excellent truths:

  1. Human existence is suffering,
  2. Suffering is caused by desire,
  3. Suffering can be overcome by victory over desire,
  4. This victory can be achieved by following the path of the eight stages: just vision; fair resolution; fair, true and good word; correct behaviour; right job; right effort; memory or correct attention and contemplation. In turn, contemplation requires four stages: isolation, which becomes joy, meditation, which provides inner peace, concentration, which causes the well-being of the body, and contemplation, which is rewarded with indifference to happiness or misfortune . .

Buddhism was conceived as a "middle path" to achieve the liberation of the soul, intermediate between the two paths (easy and superficial) recognized by Brahmanism and the rigorous asceticism of the Jains. He accepted Jain vows modified to be compatible with a normal life. Thus, the death of living beings was allowed for food purposes, chastity was replaced by fidelity in marriage, etc., but intoxicating drinks, gambling, dealing with undesirable people, etc. was strictly prohibited.

In 522 Polycrates, the tyrant of Samos, died. It seems that he was caught in an ambush by an enemy and cruelly murdered. That same year, a Median priest named Gaumata claimed to be Smerdis, brother of the Persian king Cambyses II, and was proclaimed king by some noble Medes while Cambyses II was in Egypt. However, the priest could not be who he said he was, since Cambyses II himself had ordered the murder of his brother before his departure, in anticipation of a possible betrayal such as the one that, even so, took place. Cambyses II found out what happened while he was returning from Egypt. He made it known that the real Smerdis was dead, but he could do no more, for he was soon killed. Next to him was a distant relative, also, therefore, of the Achaemenid family, who immediately took command of the forces loyal to Cambyses II, marched on Media, killed the false Smerdis,521, he achieved complete control of the empire. His name was Dario I.

It is very probable that behind these facts there are nationalistic and even religious motivations. For example, Cyrus and Cambyses II accepted the Babylonian religion, while the false Smerdis and Darius I were Mazdaeans. Perhaps Cambyses II discovered or suspected that a group of noble Medes dissatisfied with Persian rule were plotting a rebellion, and that his brother might be thinking of taking advantage of the circumstances to proclaim himself king. Perhaps Darío I took advantage of the circumstances to proclaim himself king by killing Cambyses II. He maybe he was a Mazdean or maybe he judged that the Mazdeans were then the most powerful faction, with which the best way to be supported was to appear as a Mazdean pro medo as well as an Achaemenid with a right to the throne. Be that as it may, Darius I ended up having the support of Media and the misgivings of Babylon, just the opposite of what had happened to Cambyses II.

In 520 Cleomenes I occupied one of the two thrones of Sparta. Shortly after he marched on the Argolis and inflicted a decisive defeat on Argos, after which Sparta definitively dominated all of the Peloponnese. Strictly he owned a third of the territory, another third was Arcadia, which had long been his stalwart ally, and the other third was Argolis, which never again dared to question Spartan authority. In the Peloponnese, not a soldier moved without permission from Sparta, and the city was considered the leader of the Greek world, despite being culturally by far the poorest city.

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