Friday, 8 February 2013

3D Paganism – Philosophy Matters

"The Temptation of Saint Anthony" by van Craesbeeck (1650)
It all started when I had an argument with my partner. Something about it (perhaps being accused of living in an escapist's dream-world) dragged me into an intensely vicious depression. Like the Romans who overturned their altars and attacked the Lares when their beloved Germanicus died, I turned my back on the household Gods, who I felt had failed to protect me and my familia, despite years of almost daily offerings at my household shrine. I did not resort to violence, but I let my shrine fall into dusty disuse.

At around the same time I was reading Cicero's The Nature of the Gods, which is essentially a book on philosophy, as I did so I recognised how hollow my spiritual life had become – I performed daily rituals so to request that the Gods grant me my worldly desires; my spiritual focus was on maintaining a household shrine and reading books about ancient Rome. There was no cultivation of the spirit, no attempt at self-improvement, no focus on the attainment of wisdom, no pursuit of deep truths. I held a mirror up to my spirit and saw a person steeped in the art of pleasant diversion, but not content, and apparently vulnerable to mental ill health. Marcus Aurelius said it well when he said: 
"those who fail to pay careful attention to the motions of their own souls are bound to be in a wretched state [Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 2.8]."
I recalled happier days and their associated characteristics – in those days I sought constantly to commit not a single unwholesome action; to cultivate a wealth of virtue, to tame my mind. For this was the teaching of the Buddhas (Dhammapada, verse 183). I drank no wine or whisky, I was uncompromisingly truthful, I tried to meditate, I recited mantras, I prayed to Green Tara the Bodhisattva to help me to be a more compassionate and wiser being, I lived with purpose (on the downside my home was infested with cockroaches, as I abided by the five precepts of traditional Buddhism and thus refused to kill them). Somehow I had the sense that Mercury, about whom I had recently read a great deal and whom I have sometimes thought of as a kind of ancestor guardian, was guiding me towards a well which offered a deeper spiritual life than that which I had been drinking from and which was leaving me so thirsty and so vulnerable to the wiles of Mara (a deity of the Buddhist pantheon associated with illusory temptations).

Something else that made me think of Buddhism was my recent reading up on Stoicism. Obviously I knew something of it before, but now as I tried to understand it a little better the similarities to Buddhism struck me deeply. For example the following descriptions of Stoicism could be applied almost equally well to Buddhism:
"Stoicism is a … philosophy … which teaches the development of self-control and fortitude as a means of overcoming destructive emotions in order to develop clear judgment and inner calm and the ultimate goal of freedom from suffering … Stoicism is not just a set of beliefs or ethical claims, however, but rather a way of life, involving constant practice and training, and incorporating … contemplation of death, and a kind of meditation aimed at training one's attention to remain in the present moment []."
"Stoic ethics taught freedom from passion by following reason and cultivating apatheia [ie, detachment] … But the Stoics did not seek to extinguish emotions, only to avoid emotional troubles by developing clear judgment []."
"The Stoics did, in fact, hold that emotions like fear or envy (or impassioned sexual attachments, or passionate love of anything whatsoever) either were, or arose from, false judgments and that the sage – a person who had attained moral and intellectual perfection – would not undergo them []."
Statue which may be Athena/Minerva,
Goddess of Wisdom, 
Ghandara, 2nd century CE
Consider also these Stoic quotations compared to passages from the Buddhist canon: 
  • "Freedom is secured not by the fulfilling of men's desires, but by the removal of desire [Epictetus]" to "The craving of one given to heedless living grows like a creeper ... Whoever is overcome by this wretched and sticky craving, his sorrows grow like grass after the rains. But whoever overcomes this wretched craving, so difficult to overcome, from him sorrows fall away like water from a lotus leaf [Dhammapada, verse 334-336].”
  • "Men are disturbed not by things that happen, but by their opinion of the things that happen [Epictetus]" and "If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it [Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 8.47, see also 11.18]" to "All that we are is the result of our thoughts; it is founded on our thoughts and made up of our thoughts. With our thoughts we make the world [Dhammapada, verse 1].”
  • "... the mind which is free from passions is a citadel [Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 8.48]"  to "Just as rain breaks through an ill-thatched house, so passion penetrates an undeveloped mind. Just as rain does not break through a well-thatched house, so passion never penetrates a well-developed mind [Dhammapada, verses 11-14]."
Now consider that the time period when Stoicism was forming (mid 3rd century BCE) was the very same time when one of the greatest “wheel turning” monarchs of all time, Ashoka, sent proselytising Buddhist emissaries to the neighbouring Greco-Bactrian kingdom and possibly to Greece. Consider that one of the most important texts in the Buddhist (Pali) canon includes the Questions of King Milinda – a record of philosophical dialogue between a Buddhist monk and the Greek king Menander in the 2nd century BCE; consider that the influence of Greco-Roman art is abundantly evident in the art of Ghandara – one of the greatest Buddhist kingdoms of all time – when she was at her height (1st-5th century CE). Consider that links between India and the Roman Empire in the 1st century were well established enough for St Thomas to go to India (at a time when Buddhism was flourishing there) and preach the gospel of Christ, and that the 2nd-3rd century Christian theologian Clement of Alexandria wrote of Buddhism, as did St Jerome in the 4th century. Consider all this and then consider that just as cultural borrowings from ancient Greece and Rome were evident in Buddhist Afghanistan and Pakistan, it is not just possible, it is probable, that there was a cultural exchange in the other direction. Clearly Buddhism was not widely practiced in Greece or Rome but the chances that Buddhist ideas trickled into the region, especially through cities, such as Alexandria, that were trading hubs, are good. Some of the similarities of Stoicism and the core teachings of Buddhism are strong enough that, particularly when we consider that these philosophies were contemporaneous, one may well have influenced the evolution of the other. Furthermore, the exchange of ideas could have been mutual. 
Buddha, Ghandara, 2nd century CE
Thus we see that while on first glance a marriage between Roman Paganism and Buddhism may seem eccentric, in fact, they are not such an odd coupling. To expand on this subject: in ancient times south Asia was the geographic region most strongly associated with Buddhism – both post-Alexander Greek dynasticism and Roman trade in south Asia meant that the links between these worlds were not weak. We also know that the Buddha was a descendant of the Indo-European tribes, and thus linked by ancestry with the dominant (Indo-European) tribes of Europe. Then we see that much Buddhist iconography in our own time is partly heir to Greco-Roman cultural influence as it played out in the important Buddhist kingdom of Ghandara – the toga wearing Buddha that most of us are used to seeing today is more indebted to Greco-Roman art than is popularly appreciated. Then we compare Stoicism, the most important philosophical school of the Greco-Roman world, with Buddhist doctrine and acknowledge the similarities between the two (though certainly not in all respects, for example, Stoic physics, namely the belief in the universe as a pantheistic God, is not consistent with Buddhist doctrine, however, interestingly, it does resemble the Hindu concept of Brahma as the ultimate reality and supreme and singular Godhead. Note also that while Buddhist karma and Stoic determinism are similar they are certainly not identical concepts). When we do all these things Buddhism suddenly seems so much less foreign to Roman Paganism than one would at first glance admit. Not least because embracing Buddhism as a philosophy is consistent with the syncretic cultural approach of the Religio Romana, for there is nothing in the Buddha’s teachings that precludes Roman Paganism – although, notably, Buddhism denies that the Gods are immortal, for all things are impermanent, including Gods. However, I have never believed that the Gods were immortal, though very long living (eg, as the sun is long lasting, so is Apollo), so this concept is nothing new to me.

Furthermore, and as I have pointed out in an earlier post, Buddhism expressly affirms the existence of the Gods and the honour and respect they deserve. Consider these passages from the Dhammapada:
Buddha, Ghandara, 1st century CE
"By heedfulness [or mindfulness/maintaining self discipline through an attentive state] did Indra [God of the sky, thus Jupiter] become the overlord of the Gods. Heedfulness is ever praised, and heedlessness ever despised [verse 30]." 
"Faint is the fragrance of tagara [a fragrant herb] and sandalwood, but excellent is the fragrance of the virtuous, wafting even amongst the Gods [verse 56]." 
"Those wise ones who are devoted to meditation and who delight in the calm of renunciation [of sensual pleasures and moral defilements]  such mindful ones, Supreme Buddhas, even the Gods hold dear [verse 181]." 
"Speak the truth; yield not to anger; when asked, give even if you only have a little. By these three means can one reach the presence of the Gods [verse 224]."
The Buddha also told a lay disciple (ie, not a monk or nun): 
"With the wealth acquired by energetic striving ... righteous wealth righteously gained, the noble disciple undertakes four worthy deeds … [the third of which is to make] five kinds of offerings: to relatives, guests, ancestors, the king, and the devas [ie, Gods]. This is the third case of wealth gone to good use [Discourses from the Pali Canon at 126-127]."
So, with my spirits buoyed by philosophy, by which I mean the teachings of the Buddha (who I consider by far the best of all philosophers), I have reconstructed my altar and reassessed my daily ritual. No longer do I incorporate a prayer which pleads the fulfillment of my desires. Rather I seek to honour the Gods, as before, but to improve the mind as I do it; my prayer (and ritual) has been changed as follows. I suspect the Stoic philosophers of Greece and Rome would not have disapproved:
"Be well revered Vesta, may your flames protect this family and may they light the path to wisdom. 
I light this incense in reverence of all wise and compassionate divine beings, Janus foremost, may you be well and may you look favourably on the house of [my surname].
This water is offered with good will to all local spirits, may you be well and may you look favourably on the house of [my surname]. 
This fruit is offered with good will to the spirits of this household, may you be well and may you look favourably on the house of [my surname].  
To any divine beings who are listening, thank you for your blessings if they be so, and may they be so. 
As this room is improved by the scent of this incense, so too is peace of mind improved by virtuous conduct. 
As this water is clear and calm so too is the mind when it is unstirred by passions. 
Like this fruit which grew from a seed, so too do actions have consequences."
Further online reading:

Written by M. Sentia Figula. Find me at neo polytheistRoman Pagan and on Facebook


  1. You undertook a loaded topic… It is long enough and is very well written. Besides, you can always edit it… Topics like these will always be lacking enough depth and conclusive evidence along it ;)
    There certainly was a live trade of spirituality and philosophy between the Roman Empire and the East. The Library of Aleksandria existed, Syrian cities were famous for translating books and there were spiritual, educated and rich people traveling around… Jesus himself is said to have traveled East. Rome must have known about Reincarnation… Marcus Aurelius does not seem to have gotten into that concept as much as he was mingling around it beyond determinism ("impersonal reincarnation"...), but he must have had knowledge of it or maybe not…
    Some knowledge was traded, while some knowledge probably sounds similar due to the fact that those people drank from the same fountain of existence; from which you derive the differences between “similar” and “same”. Adding into account cosmological differences between the two creates confusion. Another loaded factor in your post is separating what is purely spiritual and what is purely philosophical, along with what we could define as spiritual-philosophical. Then you have what is borrowed and what is from own source … and all that dipped into universal human nature where two monks from a same temple may not have the same spiritual depth and may have different meaning to a same word… Then you have to present all that to people who have built their bastions of knowledge (read: ignorance) over the idea that there is no God in Buddhism…
    What I really did not understand is what you were trying to bring along with this. Would you please clarify it to me (I would like to play with it and am not going to let it go easily :D ):
    "We also know that the Buddha was a descendant of the Indo European tribes, and thus linked by ancestry with the dominant (Indo European) tribes of Europe."
    I like your Pagan-Buddhist approach to prayer. The difference between Christianity and Buddhism in how these refer to God may be depicted as that Christians “ask for and might not be heard” while Buddhists “listen to what God speaks”. Christian prayers which have their system of “what may be asked”, can be derived into the ho’oponopono “I am sorry” and “Thank you”, which works perfectly enough in practice, being directed to the Inner Child... Interesting enough is that prayer is conducted at 8Hz, which is the same wavelength of Earth… What I am trying to get to is that it all works if one has the good intent and pre-wired intuitive approach…

    1. “What I really did not understand is what you were trying to bring along with this. Would you please clarify it to me”. That is the weakness of the post and why I have considered taking it down on occasion. I have left it up for personal reasons, ie, it documents (as does this whole blog) my spiritual journey since 2011. If I removed it then I might forget the impetus for writing it. The impetus (I guess) answers your question. Essentially by the time I wrote it I was more or less committed to Roman polytheism, but the way I was practising before then was a bit superficial, and so it became unsatisfying. In the classical world it was customary for educated Pagans to look to philosophy when pondering the big questions of life, but I did not feel at home with classical philosophy, whereas I was familiar with Buddhism. I wanted to revisit Buddhism but it seemed weird to want to be a Buddhist and a Pagan. I have since discovered that my discomfort was misplaced as a huge number of Pagans are Buddhist sympathetic, but I didn’t know that then. So basically I was looking at what I knew was the most popular philosophical school in Pagan Rome (Stoicism) and seeking to relate to it by comparing it with Buddhism. I was also attempting to justify what at that time seemed an incongruous union between Buddhism and Roman polytheism – hence the pointing out that the Buddha was an Indo-European. This is relevant to many Western Pagans as they are inspired by the indigenous religions of Europe, which are of course predominantly Indo-European. Part of the Pagan journey is about looking to the primordial spirituality of our Indo-European ancestors before Christianity came into the mix. I guess I’m also trying to say that east and west have more in common than is usually acknowledged. As I live in Sydney, which is a place where Western and Eastern culture predominate, so that White Sydney-siders are heavily influenced by Asian culture and vice versa, this understanding is particularly relevant to my head space, but probably to very few others. So essentially the post just comes from an insular experience which is of little relevance to anyone but myself! This post marks the beginning of my quest to understand the divine through a deeper lens; as it marks the start of a journey it is probably inevitable that it is a bit clumsy and confused.

    2. Yes, the impetus… and it is good that you haven’t taken it down along some negative mood swing, because seeing it from the angle of virgin interest (to not call it superficial); your post does have an intimate and appealing dimension to it, along with the whole blog journey! I bet that everyone into the matter has had such journeys, but not everyone has been recording it, especially not to presentable degree… I see that you have been into DNA haplopgroups trying to connect all that together through a pagan prism as starting point, and that you have also used your intuition to approach it to the all-encompassing spirit of Buddhism. I like that!
      What I find interesting is that you might have also gained insight from the Aborigine spirituality and mythology as well, but they are so marginalized and looked from upon in Australia, aren’t they? I would have found it spiritually rewarding and intellectually brave to compare the Aborigines with Buddhism. I myself might end up in/near Adelaide (I am from Serbia)… and I have been looking toward the Aborigines with spiritual admiration and respect, besides my fruitless, one-minute approaches to the didgeridoo and circular breathing… The journey of mankind did not start with the Indo-European group, but much earlier, in the era of animism… I bet the Aborigine dreamtime approach may have a much better understanding to what your ultimate, spiritual goal may be – the Divine – to which they seem much closer than almost anyone we (Caucasians) have shown mercy toward. After all, the Aborigines don’t operate in 3D like we do, but rather in 5D :D
      The history of mankind is much deeper than our official books tell us, and DNA halopgroups come as great aid to uncover all that. We can also trace global climate changes and how these have influenced human migrations, which makes us easier to know where to dig holes... One interesting thing is what supposedly Sonchis said to Solon about how civilizations vanish and its descendants loose all knowledge… Add to that the Hindu view that we have had a more spiritual Yuga passed behind us (We are in our fourth and last called Kali Yuga, of which we are left with only 5000 more years of spirituality before…). The Bosnian pyramids, for example, are said to be 25,000-30,000 years old and that they are as old as the Egyptians whose pyramids are only the tips of an iceberg of the history of mankind. You are from England… and it was relatively recently uncovered how large Stonehenge actually was… All those people had Sacred Knowledge much before they started constructing those “tools” we define as temple… Where did Sacred Knowledge come from?
      Maybe if you and I were sitting with some Buddhist, he would tell us that everything we need we to carry lays within us; that there is no need to search for anything outward, no need for temple or any cosmological construction at all, not even the construction we build with words and thoughts… but just the inward journey... He would have killed the thread of our conversation :O

    3. You are right about the observations of the Buddhist☺ As for Indigenous Australian spirituality – this has been pointed out to me before (very validly too), but there are some serious problems with it, which non-Australians may find difficult to understand. I list them briefly but these brief observations cannot adequately summarise the whole situation:
      - The deeper aspects of Aboriginal spirituality seem to require various initiation ceremonies before it is revealed; initiates are sworn to secrecy and so in some respects Aboriginal spirituality is like the mystery religions of the classical world – we can guess, but we can’t be certain what it is all about. Very few White people get the opportunity to undergo these initiations.
      - When it comes to Black (Aboriginal) and White (European) relations in Australia there is a deep scar, which is healing I think, but still very painful. For this reason it is difficult for a White person to ask to about something so personal, and I suspect for an Indigenous person it is even more difficult to reveal sacred knowledge to someone whose people raped, killed, and stole from Aboriginal people for generations.
      - In the Sydney region there are no Aboriginals left living the traditional lifestyle. A huge number of Sydney region Aboriginals died from smallpox, and they say whole tribes were wiped out. Today, over 70% of Aboriginals are said to be Christian and the ancestors of many Indigenous people were forced off their traditional lands long ago (to make way for farming), so it is unclear to me whether or not urban Aboriginals even really know very much about their ancestors’ religions. Many Aboriginals throughout the 20th century were raised by missionaries in boarding schools, and deliberately alienated from their traditional culture, so there is a gap in knowledge there – many Aboriginal children were forcibly separated from their parents and their traditional spirituality …
      I have tried to read up on Aboriginal religion and from what I can gather their traditional spirituality focuses on ancestor veneration, which extends to the land, and the plants and animals on the land, some of which are seen as incarnations of their ancestors, so that certain plants and animals are totem animals of their tribes, while others will belong to other tribes. I think when Aboriginals talk about being connected to the land they really mean it, they see their ancestors in it, and therefore feel they are part of it, but there is more to it than I can understand. I am descended from nomads of Europe and Asia. I don’t think any land could mean as much to me as I suspect it does to traditional Aboriginals, even though I too feel connected to the Australian landscape and its flora and fauna. I’m sure there is more I can learn about this, but the historical and social realties makes these things difficult.

  2. I ran into an online astral projection seminar from London… where it was said that when the Caucasians met NA Indians, these told them “You can see the tree, but you can’t really see the tree!” That is how Aborigines see the world and perhaps can be comparable to how children see the world; having more Beta wavelengths than their adults who are initiated and suppressed into the collective unconscious of our material society… Their connection to land cannot be understood through our way of connecting to land; whether it is just landscapes we are talking about… or rather ancestral spirits which for part of who we are in the totality of our multidimensional existence…, because we have degraded our dream world into oblivion, erasing the existence of the fifth dimension from our perception of reality. How many of us are aware of the connection of dreams to astral projection and how many of us practice it at all? You could ponder all the time you want into it, but would just simply need to experience such thing in order to understand it.
    The only “good” thing We brought to Them is having not completely exterminated their culture, or not yet… that the 30% are still holding their lands away from Uranium people and their filthy political clones… - the only left culture in this world which creates mythology from dreamtime… so captivating! I wish Joseph Campbell was given more time… I hope I could challenge you to venture into comparing Aborigine mythology to Buddhism and Stoicism…

    1. You've lost me ... I don't know anything about this kind of thing. Not that I'm saying it's not valid, it is just I had to google astral projection, although I can guess what "fifth dimension" and "beta wavelengths" means. That kind of stuff is too, I don't know, not my thing. Unless something can be proven I try to keep an open mind, which means neither believing nor unbelieving.

    2. I am glad you googled Astral Plane... as it is in the core structure of mythology and dreams... We talked about "proof" and I told you that you would understand why you couldn't have understood it, only when you have had such experience... and since mythology is your thing and you deserve it, allow it more space for what it truly stands for, allow it the experience... I don't like to be quoting, but here are two excerpts from Joseph Campbell:
      "... because a dream is a personal experience of that deep, dark ground that is the support of our conscious lives, and a myth is the society's dream. The myth is the public dream and the dream is the private myth." The Power of Myth.
      "It is impossible to communicate an experience to someone who has not had the experience. Try to communicate the experience of skiing down a wonderful mountain slope to someone who has never been on skis. Try to communicate the experience of being in love when it happens to people who have never known this experience. It cannot be done. You can speak only by analogy. For a system of mythological symbols to work it must be operating in the field of a community of people who have essentially analogous experiences; otherwise, nothing is happening there."
      Collected Audio Lecture II.2.5, "Creative Mythology"

    3. Its like having a precognitive dream and intuitively recognizing it as such, instead of recognizing it as conventional, mere statistical event. If you ever had such dream, which I suppose you have had, and you've tried to explain it to a reptilian who forgets dreams and leans on statistical explanation (and the more you try to "prove" it as something divinely intimate and being "beyond" the confining statistical, the more you are drained and pulled back into statistical perception our society chucks us into - or more precisely said; pulled back into lower vibration - grounded...), then you understand what I am trying to pass through. I was a non-believer, but having had an open mind and trying to connect things, at one point I started believing...
      Same thing goes if you try to explain the nature and depths of mythology to someone who sees it as educational fairy tale or Flying Spaghetti Monster stuff... How could you ever explain to such people that the Tree of Knowledge for example, does not fit into intellectual category but belongs to the spiritual realm as something grasped from ritual experience and not creative thought alone?

    4. Had to google “precognitive dream” lol. Thanks for your thoughts, it is always a difficult thing to articulate these sorts of things☺

    5. No kidding you had to google that :O In short, I just tried to sketch that when for example a shaman or priest goes from ritual into myth, he has actually transcended consciousness from this reality into a reality where time is not linear - from where precognitive dreams come from, besides other phenomena which are constructed into the core of what a myth is - transcendental experience brought into the confinements of this reality to serve us as spiritual guidance, being that the main function of mythology. Difficult is fun. It was great fun exchanging thoughts with you :) Much more fun than speaking with our silent Buddhist monk friend :D ... ... Thank you! Hope to see you around :)