01/20/13

A Stream of Prophets – Muhammad

“As-salamu’alaykum” (May peace be upon you), the greeting of Islam taught by Muhammad.

 

 

 

The prophet Muhammad, whose full name was Abu al-Qasim Muhammad ibn Abdullah, was born in Mecca, Arabia, in 570 AD, where he would spend the first fifty-two years of his life. He was the son of Abdullah, a poor merchant of the Banu Hashim clan, of the powerful tribe of Quaraysh. His mother was Amina. Muslim tradition adds that Muhammad was also a descendent of Ishmael, the first son of Abraham. Orphaned at six, he was raised by his grandfather and uncle to become a merchant. As a child he was known as al-Amin, “the honest and trustworthy”, though much like Jesus before him, Muhammad’s teen years go unrecorded. At 25 he married Khadijah, a rich widow, fifteen years his senior, who also so happened to be his employer. They would have two sons and four daughters together. During his life Muhammad would have an estimated nine to thirteen wives, but never while married to Khadijah. His other marriages were for either political or humanitarian reasons, such as alliances or compassionate moves regarding the widows of those killed in battle.

As the years slipped by and working as a trader, he started to be drawn more and more towards spiritual contemplation and would often go on long walks alone or sit within a cave and meditate. By 600 AD he began to receive revelations from a god who called himself Allah, claiming to be the one and only God. These initial revelations then stopped and nothing was heard for three years, until a day came when Muhammad received a message from the angel Jibril (Gabriel) insisting he recite (Iqra) everything that would soon to be revealed to him in visions from Allah. Over the next twenty two years he would receive many messages through many visions. Each vision and message became the surahs or chapters which would eventually make up the Qur’an (Koran). Because Muhammad was illiterate, he had to recite each surah often, to commit it to memory, which made him appear to be a very serious, highly moral and aloof character. Muslims commemorate this event, Muhammad’s first experience of divine revelation, as the “Night of Power” (Lailat ul-Qadr). It is said that after these first revelations Muhammad worried that people would think he was either possessed or deeply distressed mentally. Nonetheless he stayed the path exhibiting extreme devotion.

The faith of the Qur’an would become the foundation of Islam; “submission” to God. Islam also means peace. Followers of the faith are Muslims, “ones who submit” and believe the Qur’an to be Allah’s own words and not that of any human being. Muhammad’s achievement of having memorized the words of their one god, in its entirety, is viewed as Muhammad’s greatest miracle. His messages were called the “Seal of the Prophets.” Muslims today still believe that in memorizing the Qur’an as a sign of achievement; In fact the Qur’an is the most memorized book in history.

The first surah of the Qur’an is universally incorporated in the daily prayers of all Muslims; “In the name of Allah, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful. All praises and thanks be to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds, the Most Beneficent, the Most Merciful, the Only Owner of the Day of Recompense (to reward). You (alone) we worship and You (alone) we ask for help. Guide us to the Straight Way. The way of those whom you have bestowed your Grace and not (the way) of those who have earned your anger, nor those who went astray.”

During Muhammad’s life, each tribe had its own pagan god; each perceived as being protectors and spirits and who were associated with sacred trees, stones, springs and wells. But the recited word of Allah commanded that these idols and shrines be destroyed. This alone made Muhammad a threat to the local tribes and the rulers of Mecca, as they had become wealthy on idol worship. Also disturbing them was that Allah’s message was being delivered to humanity as a whole, not one race or class. Muhammad also began to preach that the rich should give to the poor, which provoked even more hostility, especially in Mecca, which was an important financial center. The first religious duties Muhammad would claim were; belief in only one god, Allah; ask for forgiveness of sins; offer frequent prayers; assist those in need; reject cheating and love of wealth; be chaste; and, as was the common practise at the time, stop killing newborn females. After these declarations, the persecution and abuse upon Muhammad and his followers began in earnest, with most Meccans ignoring and mocking him in equal measure. His earliest converts were mostly brothers and sons of wealthy merchants, people who had fallen out of their tribe’s favour as well as poor and unprotected foreigners.

In 620 AD, Muhammad would take a night journey (Isra and Mi’raj) with the angel Gabriel. Astride the winged horse, Buraq, they flew from Mecca to Jerusalem and back, surveying the land from above. Soon after, both his wife Khadijah and his uncle died and the now fifty year old Muhammad losing his position and income was quickly reduced to poverty. He spent his days making more converts from the pilgrims to Mecca, many of whom were from the agricultural oasis of Yathrib. These people were familiar with monotheism, as there was a large Jewish community.

By 622 AD he and his followers were no longer tolerated in Mecca. And as rumours of assassination plots against him increased, the people of Yathrib offered Muhammad and his followers’ sanctuary in their town and felt Muhammad could assist them in arbitration in the many feuds among the tribes in the area. Muhammad was a well known and respected arbitrator, dealing with many practical disputes about the simple ideology, “My community will never agree in an error”; interpreted to mean that the consensus of the community is a source of moral and legal authority.

Muhammad gathered his people making their way the 338 km (210 miles) trek to the town that would soon be called Medina, “city of the prophet.” This migration would be called the Hijira, and marked the beginning of the Muslim era. It was at this point that Muhammad felt he and his followers had been persecuted enough. From being a poor prophet, despised by his community, moving to Medina was the next step in his becoming the leader of a community governed by Islamic law.

Muhammad would soon form the “Constitution of Medina” (Sahifat al-Madinah), a formal agreement between Muhammad and all of the significant tribes and families of Yathrib, his fellow Muslims who had followed him from Mecca, and Jews, Christians and pagans. This constitution was the first forms of government established in Islam and brought much inter tribal fighting to an end. To this effect it instituted a number of rights and responsibilities for the Muslim, Jewish, Christian and pagan communities of Medina bringing them within the fold of one community, the Ummah, which would be presided over by the Caliph (head of state). Though having a religious outlook, the Constitution also included practical considerations, as well as preserving the legal forms of the old nomadic Arab tribes. The large, wealthy Jewish population did not accept such a constitution since they believed instead in Judaism Mosaic law. They also did not believe Muhammad to be of the race of Adam. They and the Jewish tribes, such as the Banu Nadir and the Banu Qaynuqa, were soon banished to Syria without their property.

Eventually all of Medina was converted to Islam, while Muhammad and the original Muslims from Mecca began acquiring wealth and power by raiding Meccan caravans and fighting skirmishes against them.

In 624 AD, with the revelations from Allah continuing to flow through him, Muhammad, on his knees and facing Jerusalem praying heard Allah whisper to him to turn and face Mecca while in prayer. The same year Muhammad was granted permission from Allah to go to war against the enemies of Islam and the process of conversion or the sword began, and would last eight long years.

The war brought their enemies to their knees and were either immediately converted by reciting the first surah, or were killed right there as they knelt. The Muslims were victorious in their first battle against the Meccans, but at the next at Ohod, Muhammad was severely wounded and his forces retreated.

Two years later in 627 AD Muhammad reversed the situation and seized Medina and took control of Mecca. By their surrender Muhammad was recognized as chief and prophet of Mecca. Islamic myths tell of his bravery in battle and his leadership. He was revered for killing many and converting many more to Allah’s ways. The Muslims then ransacked and destroyed all the idols and images from Mecca’s temples. This anti-idolatry was reflected in the fact that after Islam became established as an organized religion, the representation of Muhammad or Allah in art became strictly forbidden.

In 630 AD, at sixty years of age Muhammad would rule over not only Medina and Mecca, but soon all of Arabia. Though at first many of the Bedouin tribes disagreed with Islam and refused to give up their independence, they eventually established a code of virtue and ancestral traditions. Muhammad allowed them to do this, but only after getting them to sign an agreement, where they would have to pay zakat, the Muslim tax.

Besides guiding all areas of Muslim behaviour, Muhammad’s revelations also brought forth obligations which were essential to the lives of Muslims and to the values of uniting Muslims into a community. The outline of these obligations was called the “Five Pillars.”

The first pillar was Shahadah, the basic creed of Islam which is the confession of one’s faith in God and the prophet Muhammad, “I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God.” Saying this aloud before witnesses was the only requirement to become a Muslim.

The second pillar was Salah, the ritual worship performed five times a day by kneeling while facing towards Mecca. It was the time to focus the mind on God. The breaks were excellent times, over the course of one’s day, to reflect, stretch, with set cycles of bowing, standing and sitting, and relaxing while breathing deeply.

The third was Zakat, the giving and caring for the poor and needy. Assistance to the poor was based on one’s accumulated wealth and mandatory for all Muslims who could afford the tax, which was about two and a half percent of one’s earnings. As well as helping the poor and needy, all Muslims had to help in assisting in the spread of Islam.

The fourth pillar, Sawm, represented the time to atone for past sins and to reflect upon those in need through fasting and prayer during the month of Ramadan (Arabic calendar). From dawn to dusk each day of Ramadan, one did not eat nor drink.

The fifth and final pillar was Hajj (Pilgrimage) and was where every Muslim, at least once in his or her life, had to make a pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. Besides the Five Pillars, Allah also required that each Muslim show moral behaviour and devotion. These five pillars remain as the cornerstones of Islam.

To Muhammad, religion was not a private or individual matter; it was the religious, intellectual, economic, social and political pressures of the day. Islamic philosophy would become the search for wisdom (Hekma) through the views of life, the universe, ethics and society, and over the next few hundred years’ Islamic literary, scholarly and scientific works would have a profound impact on societies everywhere.

The people of Muhammad’s generation knew about Christianity, which had become the Roman Catholic Church, while Judaism they had known about for even longer and viewed it as a religion strictly for the Jews. The idea of God that Muhammad presented to his people was that the Jews misrepresented the Old Testament, turning the universal religion of Abraham into an exclusive, race-based, nationalistic system. He felt Islam to be a revival of the pure religion of Abraham that even Adam followed in the beginning. But this time, the “chosen peoples” lineage was the Arab offspring of Ishmael, first son of Abraham and Hagar, instead of the Jewish offspring of Isaac, son of Abraham and Sarah. Many scholars believe Muhammad took Judaism and Christianity and simply created an uncorrupted version.

In 632 AD, ten years after Hijira and the migration from Mecca to Medina, Muhammad finally united all the tribes of Arabia into an Arab Muslim religious entity and undertook his last pilgrimage to Mecca. Eventually making his way to Mount Arafat outside of Mecca, he gave his “Farewell Sermon.” He told the large crowd travelling with him that they were to not follow pre-Islamic customs and that an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab or of a non-Arab over an Arab, nor is there superiority of black over white and vice versa, except by their devoutness to Allah and their individual good actions. He abolished all blood feuds and disputes and for all old pledges to be returned, as solemn promises of the creation of the new Islamic Order.

After Muhammad returned from his pilgrimage to Mount Arafat, his health began to fail him and he soon died, at the age of 62 yrs, in the home of his favourite wife, Aishah. Right up to his death he continued doing his own household chores, as he had always done, including preparing the food for meals, sewing and mending his own shoes. And though a prophet, Muhammad was also very much a man of his time and enjoyed the finer things in life as well, such as the pleasures of the dining table and the division of spoils after his many battles. His wives appreciated the fact he offered them dialogue, he listened to them, took advice, debated and argued. His tomb lies in the mosque at Medina. Within ten years after Muhammad’s death, Muslims would conquer Mesopotamia, Persia, Syria, Palestine and Egypt.

Muslims believe the Arabic of the Qur’an is the finest form of the language and as a document it is indeed the Arabic language’s masterpiece. They also believe the word of Allah can never be effectively translated and is only authoritative in and inspired by the Arabic language. After Muhammad’s death the Qur’an was checked for accuracy by the scribe Zayad Ibn Thabit under the authority of Caliph Uthman with the holy scripture of the Qur’an written in about 651 AD. The Qur’an lies at the heart of Islam; it is the Word of Allah, the fundamental source of guidance for Muslims and is treated with the utmost respect. Muslims believe Muhammad’s message is the true, final and uncorrupted word of Allah and they believe that all other scriptures are fabrications and altered by humans to become simply, described doctrine and formulated statements.

There are 114 surahs (divisions or chapters) of varying lengths contained in the Qur’an; with many similar stories from the Bible, in particular, Noah, Abraham and Moses, with Jesus an especially important figure. In fact, Moses is mentioned more than any other individual, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, is mentioned more in the Qur’an than in the New Testament. Adam and Eve are also in the Qur’an, though Eve is not blamed for their disobedience and Allah forgives the pair. Muslims believe that Noah was the first prophet and Muhammad to be the last. Other surahs in the Qur’an covers all aspects of life, including governance, foreign relations, inheritance, marriage, transactions and civil restitution, among many other aspects of religious worship and social life.

Islamic law was written over the first three centuries of Islam, using both the Qur’an and the Sunnah, the assembly of traditions, acts and sayings of Muhammad, which covered such aspects as personal matters and secular law. Islamic law, from both sources combined, sought an ideal order for society. Islamic social reforms that came into being at the time improved the status quo, especially when it came to social security, family structure, slavery and the rights of women and children. Islam also denounced aristocratic privilege, rejected hierarchy and established that one could seek a career not just by having family contacts, but according to their talents.

Much like Judaism and Christianity, the Qur’an tells of a Day of Judgement, where everyone will be rewarded or punished for their actions in this life, and of a Resurrection of their God, whether it is Yahweh, Jesus Christ or Allah. Within Islam, life is a trial with no reincarnation or Son of God; personal accountability is with Allah alone. On the Day of Judgement, Allah will raise all humanity to life. Each person will be told a chronicle of their life, of the deeds they had performed, whether good or bad. It is believed that this accounting would show what was actually important in one’s life. Those who perform good works, who are generous, pray religiously, seek forgiveness of sins and fear Allah, would go to Paradise, which Muslims believe to be above both language and human comprehension. Those who believed they were the reason for their own good fortune and never sought forgiveness, or ignored others because they felt they were beneath them, would be cast into Hell. The description of Hell, as written in the Qur’an, is known to be among “the most terrifying ever committed to paper.”

Muhammad was blessed with numerous descendants, which as in life would create many squabbles, quarrels and pretenders claiming they were blood linked to their dynastic and hereditary principle. Also, much like other religions, Islam is divided into two main sects; the majority of Muslims are Sunni, the others are Shi’ites, who predominate Iran and Iraq. Their antagonistic behaviour towards each other is rooted in each group having their own theory as to the legitimacy of Muhammad’s spiritual and political heirs, as well as each having their own versions of Islamic law.

The Sunni’s believe the unity of the Muslim community is more important than the pedigree of its leader. They feel Muhammad never appointed a successor and that political leaders (caliphs), who are chosen by religious scholars, represent the legitimate succession. Sunni’s also believe in a very limited scope of human free will.

Shi’ites meanwhile, believe Muhammad did name a successor, his cousin Ali ibn Abi Talib, and that his descendents were the rightful leaders (Imams) chosen by Allah to oversee the Muslim community. Believing their leaders are hereditary is the 2nd largest group of Shi’ites, the Ismaili sect, who believe the Qur’an has two meanings, one being the apparent and the other a hidden meaning, known only to them.

Islamic tradition separates the prophets of their people into two groups. The direct messengers of Allah, who received divine revelation, were called the Rasul, “bearers of the word.” This group of prophets included, Nuh (Noah), Ibrahim (Abraham), Musa (Moses), Isa (Jesus), and Muhammad. The other group of prophets were non-divine human beings called the Nabi. Their task was to bring forth the word of Allah and preach the avoidance of idolatry and sin. Islam tradition says Allah sent Nabi messengers to every nation and that collectively more than 124,000 have been sent all over the world.

Extreme Islamists today have hijacked the contemporary belief that Islam is, and have made it a “convert thru conquest”, by using terrorism, radical movement of religion and spirituality through their own interpretations, much like the extreme Evangelicals from the West have done with their God. This happens because a problem with Islam, as well as other religions, is often their scriptures lacks context. Thus there is always bound to be many diverse interpretations of the facts or substance of their scripture.

Case in point, one of the surahs deals with Allah’s belief in jihad, which Muhammad recited as meaning the struggle against oneself. To abandon oneself to lust, greed, anger, cynicism or to forget one’s accountability to Allah, is to abandon jihad. To make a conscious effort to develop temperance, generosity and trust in providence, and to remember one’s eventual reckoning, is to wage jihad. Muhammad maintained that jihad is the work of a lifetime, with the enemies being self-centeredness and willingness to build one’s life around material comforts and pleasures. It was also important that while on jihad, a Muslim was to not inflict pain or damage to a fellow human being. It would not be until centuries later that extremist fundamentalists would use military action and terror and associate it with jihad, leaving a fifteen hundred year old message totally misinterpreted. Another case in point is the recent belief that when an extremist suicide attacker dies for his God, he will go to Paradise and into the arms of 72 virgins. This belief is nowhere stated in the Qur’an. What is stated explicitly and without exemption is the forbidding of suicide in all situations.

The parts of the Qur’an known as the “satanic verses” came to be when Muhammad was trying to conciliate some Meccan polytheists who wanted to continue worshipping some of the older deities. He soon had a vision which told him to allow these polytheists to worship other gods. He later admitted that he didn’t agree with such an allowance, but had been fooled and under a spell of the devil at the time. He was known to have many revelations with outcomes such as this that suited short-term needs of his people.

Though Muhammad could not read or write, was human and not without sin, he was however, a living commentary on the Qur’an. He cannot be regarded as the founder of Islam as Muslims believe Islam has always existed, but Muhammad was seen simply as being the final revelation, an instrument which Allah used to spread his Word of God. Even in the Qur’an, Muhammad is only mentioned four times and is not addressed by name, but in the second person.

As determined by the Islamic calendar, which is lunar based, the holiest month for Muslims is Ramadan, in the 9th month. Therefore within the Gregorian calendar Ramadan is honoured in a different month each year. It is a time for purification, to forgo all indulgences and a time for reflection of life and past misdeeds. From sunrise to sunset of each day during Ramadan a Muslim cannot smoke, eat, drink or have sex. One must read the Qur’an start to finish, reinforce their basic personal discipline and show gratitude to Allah.

In summary, the main points of Islam include the sole sovereignty of Allah, the sinfulness of worship of an idol, for fear it could lead to idolatry. That Islam is no one person; it is a belief, a faith, the certainty of resurrection with the rewards of heaven and the punishments of hell, and the divine vocation that Mohammed was the prophet that god has spoken through.

Islam today is pervasively involved in the conduct of its social patterns, military, worship, communities and governments, where Islamic law does not distinguish between matters of church and state. Most Muslims of the world today are not necessarily Arabians, as Islam, much like other belief systems, has become a global faith religion, not a regional or Middle Eastern phenomenon, despite current perception. Allah’s faithful now number over a billion worldwide.

Though Islam states that there is no difference between men and women in their relationship with God, with identical rewards and punishments, traditional Islamic law authorizes severe repression and submissiveness of women. Men are deemed more valuable, with the reason being,  the different religious laws for the sex is biological and sociological in nature. Muslim conservatives say that both genders must have a different role in society with the only criteria being their devotion to God, while Muslim social reformers argue against traditional laws towards women. Whether perceived injustice to women is according to Islam religious doctrines or culture, it is an ongoing dispute within the religion. Many Muslim women of today are attempting to reconcile tradition with modernity by becoming more active in their lives, with outward modesty and demure. Though prejudice is blind, in many Muslim countries women have come a long way on their road to equality. In Iran today 60% of university students are women. The biggest change that has allowed positive change is the simple fact that 70% of all Muslims live in Asia and not Arabia, Iran or Iraq, with the majority of Muslims living in cities of multi-traditional, multi-racial, multi-cultural and mostly secular, modern nations.

Thirteen hundred years after Muhammad, another prophet, Mahatma Ghandi, would read two volumes of Muhammad’s biography, trying to understand how Muhammad could have earned such respect and importance to millions of Muslim lives. “I became more than ever convinced that it was not the sword that won a place for Islam in those days in the scheme of life. It was the rigid simplicity, the utter self-effacement of the Prophet, the scrupulous regard for pledges, his intense devotion to his friends and followers, his intrepidity, his fearlessness, his absolute trust in God and in his own mission. These and not the sword carried everything before them and surmounted every obstacle.”

 

 

09/9/12

A Stream of Prophets – Jesus

The biographical sources of Jesus’ life are mainly the four gospels of the New Testament; Matthew, JesusMark, Luke, and John. As well as other books such as the Gospel of Thomas, one of fifty-two texts included in the Gnostic Gospels. It has been estimated that all the books combined account for anywhere from six to forty days of Jesus’ life. He is estimated to have lived from about 6 BC to 31 AD.

The books of Matthew, Mark and Luke are similar in their content, though the fourth book, by John, is different in its approach. The book of Matthew was written primarily for a Jewish audience showing Jesus to be the Jewish Messiah, an aristocratic, rightful and legitimate king born to a wealthy family in Bethlehem who descended from David and Solomon. According to Matthew’s story, upon his birth Jesus was visited by three kings bearing gifts and writes of Jesus as being a powerful and majestic sovereign.

The book of Mark, the shortest of gospels, portrayed Jesus as performing as many as eighteen miracles and being a servant, constantly serving others. The book of Luke was written for a Gentile audience. Luke was the only Gentile disciple and a Greek doctor, who portrayed Jesus’ family as poor carpenters who moved from Nazareth to Bethlehem, where Jesus was born in the poverty of a manger. There he was visited by three shepherds. Luke portrayed Jesus as a meek, lamb-like saviour. While the most theological of the four books, the book of John, deals mostly with the actual nature and will of God, as revealed to people.

The focus of all these books was that Jesus was the Son of God, the Father and that they are addressed to the world at large. They also paid more attention to conversations and teaching than the earlier written books of the Torah (Old Testament). The four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written over the course of two different time periods, with the first books appearing from about 66-74 AD, thirty to forty years after Jesus’ death and the others written from 132-135 AD, more than one hundred years after his death.

The Gnostic Gospels meanwhile were found in 1945 at Jabel al-Tarif, a mountain of honeycombed caves in Upper Egypt. Written around 50-100 AD, the fifty-two texts include the book, Gospel of Thomas, which suggested that Thomas was the twin brother of Jesus and that Mary Magdalene was indeed Jesus’ wife for he “loved her more than all his disciples.” The books also included, Book of Phillip, Testimony of Truth, Gospel to the Egyptians and the Apocryphon (secret) of John. Many of them contained the same sayings from the New Testament and the four gospels, but in different contexts, perhaps suggesting other dimensions of meaning. The Gnostic Gospels, as well as others attributed to Jesus’ followers, are called cryptic translations, with the originals written in Greek, the language of the New Testament. Many of the Gnostic gospels, though written about 1500 years ago, seem to be copies of even more ancient manuscripts of the Egyptians, Babylonians, Persians and Zoroastrians.

While history suggests that Jesus could also have been Jesus of Nazareth, a Zealot, much like many young men at the time, rebelling against Roman rule, persecution and oppression. The countryside at the time swarmed with gangs of disciples. Unemployed, they would sometimes enter the Roman policed cities and fight against the tyranny of the Roman puppets, the Judean Kings and their harsh control of the populace. At the time of Jesus, most all people hoped and desperately needed a saviour. And perhaps a Jesus of Nazareth, through doctrine written decades after the fact, could be transformed into a being the people still so desperately needed, a Jesus of Christ.

Jesus is vaguely mentioned in the writings of Roman historians, Tacitus, Suetonius and Josepus, as well as some anti-Christian Hebrew writings. But the historical Jesus we know very little about, though he was known to be literate, nothing was written down when he was alive, much like Socrates and Confucius and  many other prophets up to this time, Jesus spoke to disciples who transmitted orally and in later in writing, the wisdom that was preached.

Jesus’ sayings, teachings and symbolic acts were seemingly ironic, in that the intended meaning of many of his words was often in direct contrast to their usual sense, much like the Bible in its entirety. It is filled with contradictions and inconsistencies. Thus we have no way of judging the accuracy of either form of the communication, especially considering the fact that after the Bible was put together at Nicaea in the 4th century, no one but a few could even read it. It would be more than a thousand years later that it was translated and printed and finally read by people outside the church- a mere five hundred years ago.

In Bethlehem, Judea, at the time of the winter solstice, when the three stars of the constellation Orion reached their ascent and lined up brightly to form its belt, Jesus was born as the first son of the virgin, Mary or Miriam, of the tribe of Judah and descendent of David; and wife of Joseph, a carpenter.  A poor family making the best of hard times, left to their own devices with faith in their fate. Jesus would become a disciple of John the Baptist and charismatic reformer of spirituality.

Before his birth, a rumour had made its way across the land of the coming of a messiah. Driven somewhat by Judaism, the tale also became a dream for many as the reality of the time was of oppression, civic and social persecution and intermittent rebellion. Where only a few hundred years before, the Babylonians ravaged the lands and peoples of Judea, now it was the Roman Empire’s turn for supremacy of the Middle East.

The dream for a rightful king to appear and deliver the people to freedom brought much hope. King Herod, the king of Judea at the time, who was appointed by the Romans heard the rumours and announced the persecution of all innocent new born children. Joseph and his family, with many others, were forced to flee to Egypt and upon their return years later, moved to Nazareth. Jesus is believed to have followed his father’s trade and became a carpenter. At twelve he was known to sit in the square and endlessly talk, argue and discuss with the scribes who gathered there. Jesus accepted spiritual responsibility by becoming a student at the synagogue like every other Jewish boy. Although young he seemed to be already aware of his unique relationship with his spirituality. For the next 18 years, nothing is known of his life, until his baptism at the hands of his cousin, John the Baptist, a cousin to his mother, in Jordan. This rite gave Jesus the first divine intimation or hint of his life’s mission. John himself was known as a prophet of the one God and through visions was given the task of preparing the people for the way of the Lord. John preached far and wide about reaching salvation through the forgiveness of sins.

Judea at the time of King Herod’s reign was filled with cruelties and atrocities, for he was a man overcome by jealous fears with the backing of the mighty Roman Empire and the Jewish Sanhedrin, a high court of 70 men who met in the great Temple, in Jerusalem. The authorities in Rome allowed the Sanhedrin to pass any sentence under Jewish law except the death penalty. Jerusalem represented the central government and its large administrative cabinet was the centre for all business and trade in the region. It was also the religious capital. In Jesus’ day the population of Jerusalem was about 250,000 people, with most its people speaking Aramaic. There were many markets with shops, stalls and restaurants, but away from Jerusalem and beneath the covers of society, there was much infighting and feuding, with mutually destructive strife and rebellion.

Away from the big cities, the wealthy class of rulers and officials had bought up all the land and oppressed the poor. Family farms disappeared and were replaced with huge estates, with the people having to hire themselves out as farm labourers. Slums appeared first in the villages and then within towns and cities, with the bigger and better homes of the rich usually built on large estates on the outskirts of a town. Within each community, the poor suffered tremendous hardship and tyranny. Thus when prophets such as Jesus, cried out against all the injustice and inequality, the people listened and began to believe in the hope for a saviour to save them from the drudgery of their persecuted lives.

Around 6 AD, Judas of Galilee began a highly militant revolutionary movement called the Zealots. When Jesus began his own ministry years later, the Zealots had by then assumed a prominent role in Palestine affairs. Palestine had been split into two provinces, Judea and Galilee, with Judea under direct Roman rule. Heavy taxes became the norm with much torture and a climbing suicide rate. But to many, these Zealots were revered for their activities against the oppression of the Romans. Jesus was still a child during this time, but it is conjecture that this time covered the eighteen years of his life which has gone unrecorded. We have no way of knowing who or what his influences were growing up. We do know however that when Jesus reappeared in historical accounts, the situation in Judea had become critical.

The rebellion would escalate until 66 AD, when the whole of Judea rose in revolt against Rome, albeit futile. Within four years Rome defeated all the rebel forces that fought against her and occupied Jerusalem razed the city and sacked and plundered all the temples. The fortress at Masada would be the final nail in the coffin for the Jews in Palestine and the Diaspora of the Jewish people began. They scattered to countries far and wide, feeling in exile. While the blossoming new religion of Christianity arose and within only a few hundred years became the Roman Empire’s official religion.

When Jesus reappears he is being baptised by John and afterwards Jesus felt so full of the Holy Spirit he would spend forty days in the wilderness alone, wrestling with doubts and fears, but was successful arguing against numerous temptations, even from the devil himself. In one of these temptations, Jesus rejects the traditional Jewish role of the militant Messiah who was to raise the Israelites to world domination by the sword. Besides showing moral character, Jesus’ rejection of this temptation would have a dynamic effect, for it showed the conception of the Messiah in a new light and with a new power, not evident before.

Upon his return from the desert, Jesus gathered twelve disciples around him; Peter, Andrew, Thomas, James the Less, John, Jude, Matthew, Matthias, Bartholomew, Philip, James, and Simon, as well as his companion, probably his wife, Mary Magdalene. He encouraged them all to go out and preach that which he was to teach them; only the positive and pure contents of the Old Testament and that his teachings were for all men equally, no matter the race. They were to go out and tell the people that the kingdom of God was at hand. The goal would be to provide hope and create a believing community. He was a very charismatic individual and seemed to carry himself confidently often using human and earthly analogies to explain spiritual and eternal concepts and moral issues, teaching that man’s true battle lay within. He warned people against careless talk and blasphemy against their God and that all of God’s children were to correct one another, to pray for one another, and to forgive one another. This demanding focus on others was very radical for the time.

During one of their journeys across the land of Judea, they eventually made their way to Nazareth, where Jesus, who still considered himself a Jew, as did all the apostles, entered the synagogue. Many elders were in attendance, and as Jesus entered he was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah, which he immediately opened and told all who gathered that, “The spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives, and recovery of sight to the blind, to set free those who are down trodden and to proclaim the favourable year of the Lord.” Finishing, he handed back the book and sat down. At first, you probably could have heard a pin drop. All eyes were upon him, no doubt some mouths agape, for here was a man proclaiming he alone to be the prophet of their God. The silence was soon enough broken as they then began to argue against him in rage, a cacophony arose. But word began to spread of this man, Jesus.

He was once asked by a lawyer, “Which is the greatest commandment of all?”, he answered that there are two commandments on which all the laws and the prophets are based, and that is to love thy God with all your heart and soul and, secondly, to love thy neighbour as thyself. He undertook at least two other missionary journeys through Galilee, where he is said to have performed many miracles, including the miraculous feeding of the five thousand by blessing a scant number of loaves and fish. He spoke revolutionary words at the Sermon on the Mount, where he emphasised love, humility, meekness, charity and service to God.

This Sermon began when those who had gathered around him, some from as far away as Decapolis, Jerusalem, Palestine, Syria and Jordan, became many, and he began to speak of many things in detail as he stood above them on a hill. He spoke about ethical living, about not seeking revenge for injury, but forgiveness of wrongdoers, about going beyond the minimal requirements of law and courtesy, in order to show true generosity of spirit. He blessed the poor, those who mourned, the gentle, those who sought righteousness, the merciful, and the pure in heart, the peacemakers, and those who had been persecuted for the sake of righteousness in their lives. He told them he was not there to abolish the law or the prophets, but to fulfil them. That, whomever commits murder shall be liable, those angry with others for no reason shall be guilty, and those who called a fellow person good for nothing or a fool, shall be guilty; that you shall not commit adultery, nor make false vows, speak the truth even if it is simply a yes or no response that is only needed. Give when asked and do not turn away from someone who wants to borrow. That one should love thy neighbour as well as their enemies, and to pray for them. To not practise your righteousness before others simply for the sake of being noticed by them and when you give to the needy there is no reason to blow your own horn.

When praying, Jesus stressed the need to pray in private and not bring undue attention to one self, to “go into your inner room and when you have shut the door, pray to the Father in secret and the Father, who sees in secret will repay you. And when you pray, pray in this way – Our father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven, give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors, and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”.

Jesus talked about not amassing material things or “treasures of the earth”, “for they decay and rust and thieves will break in and steal them”. Gather instead, the goodness of one’s heart. Not to worry or be anxious about life, one’s body, what one wears or what one eats and drinks. Who, he asked, can add even a single hour to his day by worrying. He spoke that one should not worry about tomorrow, “for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” And not to judge others, for you too could be judged. Ask and it will be given, seek and you will find, knock and the door will open for you. Do to others what you would have them do to you and to be leery of false prophets.

Jesus ended his Sermon on the Mount by saying that, for those who understood the messages he had spoke and who would go forth and practise such values and norms in their daily lives were wise and would be like those who build their homes on solid rock. While those who listened but have no intention of living in such a way were people who build their homes on sand.

The essence of the Sermon was trying to get people to believe in the things their god once held sacred and important, without the militancy that had become so much a part of it. With the New Testament not yet written, the majority of the populace followed both the written and oral traditions of the Torah and were ruled by a hateful, revengeful and jealous god. Jesus was speaking about the opposite.

Of course when the ruling Sanhedrin and the militant Pharisees heard about the Sermon they thought it to be rebellious with dangerous implications, especially in keeping the populace controlled. Though Jesus had only visited Jerusalem once or twice, the Sanhedrin already knew him as being a religious and political troublemaker who had gained a reputation for healing, for exorcism and for challenging the religious authorities. On an earlier visit to the temple in Jerusalem, people had gathered around Jesus, so he decided to sit and talk with them. The priests suddenly brought in a woman, saying to Jesus that she had been caught in the act of adultery and according to their laws should be stoned. Jesus ignored them at first then said, “He that is without sin among you, let them first cast a stone at her.” One by one the accusers left the temple. After they had gone Jesus asked the woman, “Where did they go, has no one condemned you?” “No” she answered. “Then neither do I condemn you”, Jesus declared, “Go now and leave your life of sin.” Such actions would beget much resentment amongst the Jewish elders.

They were especially offended and insulted that Jesus appeared to possess an insight to reality and the fatherhood of God. They were also disgusted with the fact that he ate and drank with the castoffs of society and taught forgiveness, compassion, and humility. The idea that God was closer than they had been led to believe, disturbed them.

After the Sermon, Jesus and his disciples began to feel the pressure from the authorities and had to seek refuge in the Gentile territories of Tyre and Sidon. There Jesus secretly revealed that he was the promised Messiah and that their God is one who cares for his people in this life and prepares them for their next life in heaven. Jesus held five great priorities as the central roles in a Christian’s life and stressed that he would not ask anyone something he would not do himself. The priorities were: a life of Surrender to God; a life of Service; a life of Obedience; a life of Communion, where God’s laws and expectations are not just for the Jewish nation, but are for all of God’s people; and a life of Witness, to be courageous in their convictions and emphasising that personal commitment matters most, whatever the cost.

Then came a day where he gathered his closest disciples around him and told them that he must soon die and that they would not believe him. Perhaps reading the writing on the wall, Jesus realized his destiny and resigned himself to the likelihood that he was going to be wrongfully put to death. He calmly continued to be seemingly in control of every situation, while his disciples were perplexed and dismayed.

Jesus then made his way to Jerusalem, a week before or after the Festival of Passover Feast, which commemorated Moses leading the Hebrew tribes in their escape from enslavement in Egypt. It was held on the 15th day of Nisan (Hebrew calendar), represented by March and April in the Gregorian calendar. It was at this time that Jesus and his disciples sat down together, to break bread for the final time and talk, discuss, argue and whisper. Fifteen hundred years later an Italian, Leonardo Da Vinci would give us his depiction of this gathering in his painting, The Last Supper.

Later betrayed by Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples, Jesus was arrested and deserted by his followers. His disciple Peter denied Jesus three times in court, and he was tried without proof by the Sanhedrin, for blasphemy, for claiming to be the son of God and condemned for practising sorcery and leading Israel astray. The Roman governor, Pontius Pilate also questioned Jesus, not about blasphemy, but of treason for his claim of being the King of the Jews. Jesus replied that his kingdom was not of this world. Pilate found no fault with this and passed Jesus off to King Herod, who taunted Jesus and sent him back to Pilate.

This condemnation of Jesus took place at the time of Passover, where each year at this time, the people were allowed to decide freedom for a prisoner of their choice. Pilate asked the crowd if it should be Jesus, but it was an angry crowd and they shouted for the release instead, of the assassin Barabbas. Jesus refused to defend himself to Pilate or to the crowd, which was becoming angrier and more insistent. The earliest texts of the New Testament stated that Jesus was then handed over to a Roman guard for crucification. Later manuscripts had him being handed over to the Jews, “so that they might crucify him”. Pilate finally condemned Jesus to death on a Roman cross between two thieves, in public. At his end Jesus was at first suffering, crying out in despair, “My God, My God, Why hast Thou forsaken me”, soon though came the words of resignation, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit,” and finally, near his end he whispered, “It is finished.”

He died and was buried. Three days after his death it is said that he arose, made several public appearances and then rose aloft and into space, where he would continue to provide leadership to his followers. It is believed that, as well as being murdered for perceived heresy against the laws of the time, the spiritual corruption of society and the oppressed way, in which people were treated, he also died for humanity’s sins.

Jesus’ death and resurrection is commemorated each year at Easter, the most important religious date, on many religions calendars. The Council of Nicaea in 325 AD, established the date of Easter as being the first Sunday after the ecclesiastical full moon (14th day of a lunar month), following the spring equinox, on or about March 21st, which varies the date of Easter between March 22nd and April 25th. Easter represents the day Jesus was resurrected, having died three days earlier on what is known as Good Friday. Besides Easter, the spring equinox has also been known for millennia, as the time of re-birth and/or awareness; the time when the seeds of the crops begin to sprout from the earth. The Roman calendar associated the Ides of March, a festival that celebrated the planet Mars, with celebration and military parades, to be the middle of the month of March 15th, the day Julius Caesar was murdered in 44 BC, and the day the Christians celebrate the Passover. The spring equinox is also the first day of the astrological year and the first full day of the sign, Aries.

Even though Jesus’ ministry only lasted approximately three years, his disciples continued to spread his word of peace, love, compassion, purity, worship and service to God far and wide, and a few would soon write of his story and teachings. By doing so they would elevate a man, Jesus of Nazareth, into the embodiment of the Holy Spirit, represented by Jesus Christ, and upon this they would build his church.

Interestingly enough, considering our social ills of today and on through the millennia, one third of all the parables and one sixth of all the words recorded as being said by Jesus and what topics are addressed, the most often in all scripture relate to our treatment of the poor, the distribution of wealth, of resources, and the danger of wealth to our souls. And yet, most Christian societies today are associated with militarism, interest paid for the use of money, gross inequality and violent assault upon the environment.

The often used symbol for Christianity, a fish, is not from the Bible calling the Apostles, fishers of men; it is because the letters of the Greek word for fish, ichthus, stands for the Greek phrase, Iesous Christos Theou Uios Soter (Jesus Christ, Son of God, and Saviour). The symbol of the fish first appeared in Christian art from about 100 AD and was used as a symbol of Jesus and the newly baptised. As to the known “seven deadly sins” mentioned in Christianity, these were first compiled long after Jesus’ death, around the year 600 AD, by pope Gregory I, and are pride, covetousness, lust, envy, gluttony, anger and sloth.

After Jesus’ death, the continuing Roman persecutions only helped in strengthening the new belief among the people that he, now called Jesus Christ was the messiah, and that he had died for them. By the Fourth century, in Nicaea, the present day city of Iznik, Turkey, Christian theologians edited Platonic metaphysics and transcendences of spiritual and ideal characteristics into their theology and decided which books would make up the Bible. Soon after, Christianity became the Roman Catholic Church, and the official religion of the Roman Empire upon Emperor Constantine’s conversion.

Meanwhile the Gnostic gospels and hundreds of other documents were banned and denounced as blasphemy and heresy, with the writers of this material deemed as heretics. While in fact, a heretic is from the Greek word, gnosis, or knowledge; through observation, experience and insight.

As Christianity became an officially approved religion, possession of books became a criminal offense with all copies burned or destroyed. The Christian bishops, who were once victimized by the police, now commanded them. Penalties handed out for misbehaviour escalated and it was announced that there would be no salvation for anyone outside the church, while whoever argued with its teachings and principles was declared a heretic and expelled, or worse. The New Testament was translated into Latin, which hardly anyone could read and a few hundred years later the paranoia and cruel aberration escalated into an era of violent persecution, which today is known as the Inquisition.

The books that became the New Testament perceived the many Christian prophets as being individuals inspired by God, through the Holy Spirit to deliver a message about the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. But one of the problems with Christianity, as well as with Islam, is that Jesus, along with Muhammad, were both misinterpreted as the final prophets, while in reality there were many who came later, from all different cultures, all over the world.

 

 

 

 

Photo by James Shepard

http://www.flickr.com/photos/biblevector/

 

 

06/12/12

A Stream of Prophets – Socrates, Plato and Aristotle

 

Socrates

Born in Athens, Greece, in 469 BC, Socrates would live his whole life there, dying in 339 BC. His parent’s names were Sophroniscus and Phaenarete. He married a woman named Xanthippe at a young age and would take part in three military campaigns: Potidaea (432-29 BC.), Delium (424 BC.) and Amphipolis (422 BC.), where he distinguished himself for bravery, remarkable endurance, and indifference to fatigue, climate and alcohol.

He did not participate in politics but instead felt guided by his “inner voice” which led him to the study of philosophy and to the examination of moral attitudes and assumptions with his fellow citizens, notable politicians, poets and gurus of that time. He once called himself simply the midwife for the opinion of others.

Socrates, as well as other Greek philosophers, lived in a time of continuous warfare, paranoia and tyranny. Though the city-states of Greece began to embrace democracy, every aspect of one’s life was believed to have been controlled by dozens of different gods.

Leading up to Socrates time, Athens and Sparta had joined forces in 479 BC, to bring an end to the Persian Wars and over the next 50 years Athens grew the stronger. But after the Peloponnesian War, which ended in 404 BC, Sparta emerged as the foremost power in Greece. Sparta reigned supreme until 371 BC when they were destroyed by the army of the Greek city-state, Thebes, led by Epaminondas. King Phillip II (359-336 BC) defeated the alliance of Athens and Thebes in 338 BC.  The whole of Greece was then under Macedonian rule. King Phillip’s son, Alexander the Great (336-323 BC) invaded Persia with campaigns that spread Greek culture and philosophies to Egypt, Afghanistan, India, and the Persian Gulf.

Although Socrates himself never wrote anything down, founded no schools and had no disciples per se, he would become one of the great figures in ancient philosophy. He may not have written down his ideas, but did develop them through dialogues and discussions in Athens streets. He argued that one must pursue the truth through rational enquiry. But as Plato and Aristotle after him, the pupils were mostly young aristocratic men. Their discussions, lessons and teachings would forever change the Western world’s beliefs.

Socrates is responsible for the shift of philosophical interest from speculations about the natural world and cosmology, to ethics and conceptual analysis. This shift away from the religious view that society expressed God’s will, to where people began to see society as the product of natural forces, would accumulate over the years and by the end of the Medieval era in Europe, seventeen hundred years later, would evolve into positivism, the path of understanding based on science. What is known about Socrates came from three very different sources. Aristophanes a playwright, Xenophon, a soldier and by far his most brilliant associate and pupil, and who was the best and main source, Plato.

Socrates’ discussions and the arguments he used became the “Socratic method”, which was to ask for definitions of familiar concepts such as justice, courage, and piety and to elicit contradictions in the responses of those of whom he discussed these issues and thus demonstrate their ignorance, which he agreed that he too shared. He taught that man should always feel the need for a deeper and more honest analysis of their everyday lives.

Rather than upholding a status quo and accepting the development of immorality within his region, Socrates worked to undermine the collective notion of “might makes right”, so common to Greece and elsewhere during this time. In solving a problem, the particulars would be broken down into a series of questions. Finding the answers would gradually give you what you were seeking.

Socrates often admitted his wisdom was limited to the awareness of his own ignorance. Socrates believed wrongdoing was a consequence of ignorance and those who did wrong knew no better. He believed the best way for people to live was to focus on self-development rather than the pursuit of material wealth. He always invited others to try to concentrate more on friendships and a sense of true community, for Socrates felt this was the best way for people to grow together as a populace. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this is Socrates’ reliance on his inner voice, which the Greeks called his “daemonic sign” and that he would know only when he was about to make a mistake. It was this sign that prevented Socrates from entering into politics. In Plato’s dialogue, “Phaedrus”, we are told Socrates considered this inner voice to be a form of “divine madness”, the sort of insanity that is a gift from the gods and gives us poetry, mysticism, love, and even philosophy itself. He believed this internal guide’s good opinion was worth having and should be heeded, and that the conscience is what makes us behave when nobody is looking.

Another curious trait of Socrates was that he absolutely refused to say anything that he was not morally sure about. In conversations he would often suddenly stop talking half way through a sentence. He also brought up the idea that knowledge might just be a matter of recollection and not of learning, observation or study.

The two most important points of his teachings were firstly that conscience is innate, and that our inner sense of what is right or wrong, good or evil originates from our intellect, our mind, rather than through experience and is inherent in our essential character. It lies within our soul. Secondly, the opinions, principles and beliefs of the faithful can easily be out pointed and satirized by those who at the onset will take their preaching at face value.

Despite claiming death defying loyalty to his city, Socrates’ pursuit of virtue and his strict adherence to truth clashed with the current course of Athenian politics and society. The city officials did not agree with him teaching the youth and aristocratic young men of Athens, his “troublesome speculations,” and discussing theology and philosophy. This unpopular activity contributed greatly to demands for his conviction for crimes against the state.

In many ways, Socrates’ beliefs were a paradox. He had no dogma and believed in the soul’s immortality, yet at the same time accepted the possibility that death may bring the annihilation of the consciousness. And although he bestowed and admitted ignorance, he also taught wisdom and cared for the soul. He would argue relentlessly. Someone would assert their position and Socrates would refute it; forever questioning.

Though much progress was made in the conquest for knowledge, including the physical and human challenges of man, in Athens, during these days of the first democracy, the situation began to turn and sour with the military overthrow of Athens in 404 BC.

Socrates’ position as a social and moral prophet began to offend the courts. Eventually he was charged for “godlessness”. The court considered him to be unsound because of his advocacy of free thought and unrestricted inquiry, and for his refusal to give assent to any dogma. If he affirmed the charges, the judges told him he would face lesser charges. But Socrates knew his life to be forfeit so he replied that death did not scare him. If death was either perpetual rest or the chance at immortality or to finally be in communion with the people that had gone before, he was fine with that. This insulted and angered the judges, as Socrates had somehow used their own beliefs against them. They quickly condemned Socrates to death, for “spreading unwholesome scepticism, impiety and corrupting the youth.” Found guilty, he turned down an opportunity to be smuggled out and escape, and at seventy years of age he was sentenced to die by drinking hemlock. The trial of Socrates and his judicial murder would be seen by many as representing the greatest moral defeat which the restored Athenian democracy inflicted upon itself. Much like biting off one’s nose and thinking you are saving your face.

Plato

Plato was one of the most important philosophers and mathematicians of all time. He was born in Athens, Greece, in 428 BC and would die peacefully in his sleep 80 years later, in 348 BC. His father was Ariston and mother Perictione. As a boy he was praised for his quickness of mind and modesty, with his youth a mix of hard work and love of study. Plato was instructed in grammar, music, wrestling and gymnastics, by the most distinguished teachers of his time. He also attended courses in philosophy, and before meeting Socrates, he became acquainted with Cratylus (a disciple of Heraclitus, a prominent pre-Socratic Greek philosopher) and the Heraclitean doctrines, which surmised that all objects are in harmony between two units of energy, an ebbing and flowing, which Plato did not agree with.

Plato was a pupil and associate of Socrates and would one day be the teacher of Aristotle. Any political aspirations he may have had withered when his friend and mentor Socrates was condemned to death in 339 BC. Plato recorded many of Socrates teachings and philosophies in three dialogues; the Apology, the Crito, and the Phaedo.

After Socrates’ execution, Plato and other philosophers, including Euclides, took temporary refuge at Megara. From there, Plato travelled widely in Greece, Egypt and the Greek cities in southern Italy and Sicily. He returned to Athens in 387 BC and founded the Academy at Athens, the first of, soon to be, many philosophical schools. It was here that Aristotle would later study and which would become a famous centre for philosophical, mathematical, and scientific research. Plato would preside over the Academy for the rest of his life.

Thirty-five dialogues and thirteen letters have traditionally been ascribed to Plato, and what became most prominent in the middle dialogues was the idea that knowledge is recollection, the immortality of the soul. Specific doctrines about justice, truth, and beauty immerged in his Theory of Forms, which refers to his belief that the material world, as it seems to us, is not the real world, but only a shadow of the real world. Ideas about the differences in the material world, the particular objects of perception, opinion, belief and the timeless, unchanging world of universals are the realities of the world and should be the true objects of knowledge. The debated theories of universals lie within the realm of metaphysics and are the characteristics and qualities that particular things have in common. The three different types of universals are; the types or kinds of a thing, the shared properties of certain things and the relationships of each particular thing. As to the belief of a divine, universal God, Plato opined that a universe abandoned by God would feel like the disorderly motion of a boat upon the sea.

Also included in Plato’s middle dialogues, through the words of Socrates, were his ideas of a political utopia ruled by philosopher kings, a visionary state with societies having a tripartite class structure which corresponded to the appetite, spirit, and reason. He saw it as the structure of the individual soul. Each part of society stood for different parts of the body, symbolizing the castes of society; the Productive, the abdomen, represented the Workers – labourers, carpenters, plumbers, masons, merchants, farmers, ranchers, etc. This corresponded to the “appetite” of the soul.

The Protective, the chest, represented the Warriors or Guardians; individuals who were adventurous, strong and brave, especially those in the army. This corresponded to the “spirit” of the soul. The Governing, the head, represented the rulers or philosopher kings; those who were intelligent, rational, self-controlled, in love with wisdom and who were well suited to making decisions for the community. The Governing corresponded to the “reason” part of the soul but whose numbers were very few. Plato used this model to conclude that the principles of Athenian democracy, as it existed in his day, should be rejected, as only a few were seen as fit to rule. Instead of rhetoric and persuasion, Plato believed reason and wisdom should govern. As he put it:

“Until philosophers rule as kings or those who are now called kings and leading men genuinely and adequately philosophise, that is, until political power and philosophy entirely coincide, while the many natures who at present pursue either one exclusively are forcibly prevented from doing so, cities will have no rest from evils,… nor, I think, will the human race.”

Plato described these “philosopher kings” as “those who love the sight of truth” and supported his idea with the analogy of a captain and his ship or a doctor and his medicine, because both sailing and healing are not things that everyone is qualified to practice by nature. He believed that the Republic (Athens) needed to address how the educational system should be set up within the Republic, and how it should be structured in order for it to produce these philosopher kings. The philosophic soul, according to Socrates had reason and will and desired unity for virtuous harmony. A philosopher king needed a moderate love for wisdom and the courage to act accordingly; for wisdom is knowledge of the good of humanity and the right relations between which all exists. Interestingly, Plato’s “philosopher kings” were seen as living communally, sharing everything and owning nothing.

Concerning states and rulers, Plato had many interesting arguments. For instance he asks which is better ‑ a bad democracy or a country reigned by a tyrant? He argued that it would be better to be ruled by a tyrant, as there would be only one person committing bad deeds, than exist within a bad democracy, where all the people would be responsible for such actions. According to Plato, a state which is made up of different kinds of souls would progressively decline from an aristocracy (ruled by the best) to a timocracy (rule by the honourable), then to an oligarchy (rule by the few), then into a democracy (rule by the people), and finally to tyranny (rule by one despotic person), and then start all over again.

Plato’s influence was especially strong in mathematics and the sciences. For instance, he helped to distinguish the difference between pure and applied mathematics by widening the gap between arithmetic, now known as number theory and logistics.

As a whole, Plato’s philosophy has had an incalculable influence on every period in subsequent history and tradition, and alongside his greatest pupil, Aristotle, he affected thought and belief through the Hellenistic period, the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Plato died in his sleep at the age of 80, after spending a lifetime asking what lay beyond the deity-ruled world he lived in, and seeking the possible realities within the spiritually of man.

 

 Plato (left) and Aristotle

Aristotle

A Greek Philosopher and scientist who lived from 384 to 322 BC, Aristotle is known as one of most important and influential figures in the history of Western thought. Born at Stagira, a Greek colony on the peninsula of Chalcidice, Aristotle was a son to a court physician to the third king of Macedon, father of Phillip II and grandfather to Alexander the Great. After his father died, Aristotle was moved to Atarneus, in present day Turkey, where he was taken care of and schooled by a relative, Proxenus.

In 367 BC he moved to Athens, where he became a student and eventually became a teacher at Plato’s Academy. Here he stayed for 20 years until Plato’s death in 347, after which he began a 12 year journey that took him to Asia Minor, including Atarneus, where he would marry a friend’s niece, Pythias.

In 342 BC he was appointed by Phillip of Macedon, to act as a tutor to his son Alexander. For seven years Aristotle taught the thirteen year old Alexander all the disciplines, from mathematics to philosophy. When Alexander went on to become known as Alexander the Great, Aristotle returned to Athens. It was now 335 and near the temple of the Greek god, Apollo Lyceius, Aristotle opened a school for the children of the elite, which he called the Lyceum. There he would teach for twelve years.

His students and followers would become known as the “peripatetic”, from the Greek word for the columns of Greek architecture fronting the school and because whenever Aristotle would teach a class he had a restless habit of pacing back and forth and up and down, which a similar Greek word means “walking all about”.

When Alexander the Great died in 323 BC there was a strong anti-Macedonian reaction in Athens and Aristotle was accused of lacking reverence to the gods. Not wanting to end up like Socrates before him, he moved to the Greek island of Euboea and within a year died of natural causes at the age of 62.

His writings represented an enormous encyclopaedic output covering every field of knowledge; including logic, rhetoric, and psychology. His thinking and studies covered man and his environment as they existed, rather than what they were thought to be.

Aristotle’s terminology, “natural philosophy”, was a branch of philosophy which examined the phenomena of the natural world, and included fields that would be regarded today as physics, biology and other natural sciences. For Aristotle, “all science is either, practical, poetical or theoretical.” By practical science, he meant ethics and politics; by poetical science, he meant the study of poetry and the other fine arts; by theoretical science, he meant physics, mathematics and metaphysics. Most of Aristotle’s life was devoted to the study of the objects of natural science. Aristotle’s metaphysics contains observations on the nature of numbers but he made no original contributions to mathematics. He performed original research in the natural sciences including biology, botany, zoology, physics, astronomy, chemistry, meteorology, and several other sciences.

Everyone during this period believed the world to be flat, except for Aristotle, who came to the conclusion, by simply looking up during an eclipse and seeing that as the earth’s shadow began to appear on the moon, that the shadow of the earth was curved and since a sphere is the only shape that casts a circular shadow from any angle, Aristotle argued, the earth must be a sphere. One hundred years later, followers of Aristotle, began to calculate the earth’s size, with one of them, Eratosthenes, calculating the circumference of the earth to be about 42,000 km or 26,000 miles. Todays accepted circumference is 40,075 km or 24,901 miles.

In the study of physics, he defined the five elements: as fire- hot and dry; earth- cold and dry; air- hot and wet; water- cold and wet; and Aether- the divine substance that made up the stars and planets. Each of the four earthly elements had its natural place; the earth was at the centre of the universe, with water, air and fire lying in their respective places beyond that which was believed to be the center. With disharmony in the natural order of the elements there was a self-righting shift- requiring no external cause. This shift saw bodies sink in water, air bubbles rise, rains fall and flames rise in air. The heavenly element Aether had a perpetual circular motion.

Aristotle believed spontaneity and chance related to causes from effects different from other types of cause. That chance is of accidental things and creates things that are spontaneous. But spontaneous does not come from chance. Aristotle’s conception of “chance” is related to “coincidence”. If one’s intent is to go out to do something expecting a certain result but another result takes its place, it is by chance, and is rare. It was an incredible concept for that time; that when things that continuingly keep happening, with the same result each time, it is not by chance.

Another and more specific kind of chance, which Aristotle called “luck”, can only be applied to humans, as it lies within the sphere of moral actions. According to Aristotle, luck could only involve choice, and as only humans are capable of deliberation and choice, his theory was; for what is not capable of action, cannot do anything by chance.

Further to causes and effects, Aristotle theorized there to be four main reasons for anything happening. The four causes were; material cause- the material that something is made of; formal cause- its form; efficient cause- what sets something in motion, and final cause- the purpose for which anything exists, including everything that gives purpose to human behaviour.

As to the human psyche, Aristotle thought every human has three souls. The vegetative soul is shared by all living things, the sensitive soul we share with all animals, while the rational soul is only inherent in humans.

His work as one of the earliest natural historians, has survived in some detail, and reflects on his research in his books, History of Animals, Generation of Animals, and Parts of Animals. These observations and interpretations placed the rational soul in the heart, rather than the brain.

Aristotle taught that the virtue of an entity is related to its role and purpose in life. An eye is only a good eye in so much as it can see, as the proper function of an eye is sight. As Aristotle reasoned that a human must have a function, possessed by no other animal, he concluded that this function was the activity of the soul. He identified the highest level of the soul as Eudaimonia, the contentment and happiness felt living a good life. To achieve this, one must live a balanced life and avoid excess. Aristotle believed that to have balance, one must exist between the two vices- excess and deficiency. To follow this middle path one needed ethics. With ethics based on, virtue informed on reason, which he called the Golden Mean. He felt them to be the highest good in which humans could attain, with reason being a human’s prime faculty. Aristotle also believed politics should be a branch of ethics.

Aristotle considered epic poetry, tragedy, comedy, unrestrained poetry and music to be imitative, each different based on appearance, form, and manner. He felt music imitates rhythm and harmony, whereas dance imitates rhythm alone, and poetry uses language. These forms also differ in their object of imitation. Comedy, for instance, is most often a dramatic imitation of humans in trouble somehow, while tragedy usually emulates great people. They also differ in their manner of imitation ‑ through narrative or character; through change or not, and through drama or no drama.

Twenty-three hundred years after his death, Aristotle remains one of the most influential people who ever lived. He invented classical logic, pioneered the study of zoology, and left every future scientist and philosopher in his debt through his contributions to the Scientific Method, which stressed that the approach to scientific investigation must be through direct observations and that theory must follow from fact.

Similar to the other Greek thinkers, Plato and Socrates, both the seat of government and the priests did not agree with Aristotle’s teachings and for years attempted to oppress him. But he saw the end game and thus, in his final year Aristotle headed for the island of Euboea, taking refuge in the town of Calcis.

In the 1st century BC, Andronicus of Rhodes edited the bulk of Aristotle’s unpublished material, including lecture notes and student’s textbooks and published Aristotle’s far ranging original systemized and sophisticated work. These works had an enormous influence on medieval philosophy, Islamic philosophy and the whole Western intellectual and scientific tradition, and most specifically on humanity’s consciousness. The philosophies and studies of the great Aristotle, Plato and Socrates make them true prophets of humanity and nature, with each one simply asking how and why.

 

 

 

Socrates – “Image Editor”

http://www.flickr.com/photos/11304375@N07/

Plato/Aristotle – Ben Crowe

http://www.flickr.com/photos/croweb/2836992031/

 

“The School of Athens” or “Scuola di Atene” is a painting by the Italian High Renaissance artist Raphael Sanzio and painted between 1510 and 1511, in Vatican City, Apostolic Palace. More than 1800 years after their deaths, Plato (left) is holding the “Timaeus” (Leonardo da Vinci) and Aristotle holding the “Ethics”.

 

 

03/11/12

A Stream of Prophets – Buddha, Confucious and Lao Tzi

Siddhartha Gautama – The Buddha “the Enlightened”

Siddhartha was born into the Shakya clan of a wealthy family, who ruled in Kapilavastu in the foothills of the Himalayas on what is now the India-Nepal border. He lived from about 563 BC to 483 BC. Siddhartha was destined to a luxurious life as a prince and had three palaces (for seasonal occupation) built especially for him. His father, King S’uddhodana, wished for Siddhartha to be a great king and shielded his son from religious teachings or knowledge of human suffering. As the boy reached the age of 16 years, his father arranged his marriage to Yas’odhara, a cousin of the same age. They soon had a son, Rahula.

For the first 29 years of his life, Siddhartha lived a life of luxury as a prince. His father ensured Siddhartha was provided with everything he could want or need, but Siddhartha felt that material wealth was not the ultimate goal of life. At the age of 29, while sneaking out of the compound and roaming the streets, he was confronted with the realities, seeing an old man, a sick man, a corpse, and an ascetic, or holy man. Upon returning to the palace he realized the narrow focus of his existence so far. With this new insight he renounced his life, left the luxuries of the court, a beautiful wife, a son, and all earthly ambitions, and became a holy man. Seeing the old man, a sick man, and a corpse created in him a view that life was governed by suffering.

He began his ascetic life by begging for alms in the street. After six years of experiencing a life of intense spiritual searching and extreme physical disciplines, and while seated under a Banyan tree, now known as the Bodhi tree in Bodh Gaya, India, he vowed never to rise until he had found the Truth. After 49 days meditating, and at the age of 35, he attained Enlightenment. From then on, Siddhartha was known as the Buddha or the “Awakened One.” Buddha can also be translated as “The Enlightened One.” Often, he is referred to in Buddhism as Shakyamuni Buddha or “The Awakened One of the Shakya Clan.”

After reaching enlightenment, with no more desires or passions, Buddha felt free to make his exit into Nirvana, the state of peaceful bliss achieved by the extinction of individual existence and by the absorption of the soul into the supreme spirit. But instead, he postponed this move, in order to show the way to all beings of consciousness. Buddha was a charismatic and masterful public speaker and founded the community of Buddhist monks and nuns (the Sangha) to continue the dispensation after his Parinirva-na or “complete nirvana”. They made thousands of converts. Of his disciples, Sariputta, Mahamoggallana, Mahakasyapa, Ananda and Anuruddha comprised the five chief disciples.

The masses of the time believed that the ultimate spiritual reality was the human soul, while Buddha held that there was no such thing as a human soul but that the psychic aspect of human nature was merely a flow of broken and interrupted mental states. The Buddhist cosmos was defined as an outer visible world. With forces that operate within it. These forces were represented by all the gods, great or small, and mapped out in concentric diagrams upon sacred art called a Mandala, a spiritual teaching tool to assist in the pursuit of an enlightened state. Every element, force or divinity in the universe corresponded to an aspect of the human personality and physiology and that an awareness of these links between the inner and outer worlds brought special insight to a prophet. Buddha thought that the perfect way in life was through contemplation and the route to avoidance of suffering lay through rejection of selfish desires. He believed all beings possess enlightenment. With some blinded to this fact. His belief, which became known as Buddhism, was not a new religion, but a radical development of Hinduism. It emphasised liberation from delusion and distorted human perceptions, such as desire, anger, and ignorance. He was against the cast system of Hinduism, which determined one’s social standing from birth, dividing everyone into four main classes. Those of the upper casts included the Brahmins, or priests; then Kshatriyas – warriors and rulers; Viasyas – traders and minor officials; and Sudras, the unskilled workers. The lowest cast, the Pariahs, were referred to as the “untouchables”.

During the last 45 years of his life, Buddha travelled the Gangetic Plain, which is now known as Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and southern Nepal. He taught his doctrine and discipline to a diverse range of people, everyone from nobles to outcasts including street sweepers, criminals and even many adherents of rival philosophies and religions.

The Buddha responded to criticism of his beliefs with calm and clear explanations of his doctrines and, where necessary, corrected misunderstandings which gave rise to the criticism. His demeanour was calm, unflustered and polite. Often smiling in the face of criticism and urging his disciples to be the same. Though Buddha craved solitude to reflect and meditate he made himself available for anyone who needed him ‑ for comfort, inspiration or guidance in walking their path. Indeed, the most attractive and noticeable thing aspect of the Buddha’s personality was the love and compassion he showered on everyone, regardless of who they were. It seemed these qualities were the motive of everything he did.

His teachings became known as the “Four Noble Truths”, which stated that life is suffering and disappointing; that suffering results from selfish desire for pleasure and profit; that to escape suffering one needed to turn from selfish desire; and in following an “Eightfold Path”, one needed to seek the right understanding, purpose, speech and conduct and to follow the right way of livelihood, effort, awareness, and concentration. A daily prayer of Buddhism issued at the end of each day reads, “Let me respectfully remind you, life and death are of supreme importance. Time passes swiftly and opportunity is lost. Each of us must strive to wake up, wake up. Take heed. Do not squander your lives.”

Buddha taught the importance of meditation as well as the moral precepts, seen as expressions of one’s own actual nature, not standards derived from any external divine authority. Buddhists are not to kill, steal or act in an unchaste manner. They do not speak falsely or take intoxicants.

Buddha also taught that nothing is permanent, that no form endures forever, and no single, perceived manifestation fully expresses the supreme reality. A blade of grass is not simply a blade of grass, but a combination of many small components. He believed in “dependent origination”; that any phenomenon exists only because of the existence of other phenomena in a complex web of cause and effect covering time past, present and future. Because all things are thus conditioned and transient, they have no real independent identity. He called this, the “rejection of the infallibility of accepted scripture” and that teachings need not be accepted unless they are borne out by our experience and praised by the wise. They included the Anicca – all things are irrelevant. Anatta – the perception of “self” is an illusion. And Dukkha – all beings suffer from all situations due to an unclear mind. He believed that a human being does not make his appearance in this world once only, but forever to be reincarnated, until Nirvana is reached.

Buddha taught the “middle way”, between the life of a householder doomed to countless rebirths and the celibate life of extreme asceticism, which seeks the right goal, but by the wrong means. The goal is Nirvana – indescribable peace. One who attains this is enlightened and no longer reborn or subject to karma. At death they enter Nirvana. In Buddhism, Karma is the quality of intention in one’s mind every time a person acts. This quality, rather than outward appearance, of the action determines the effect. Moral actions result in happiness and worthiness, while immoral actions generate unhappiness and unworthiness.

The key to Buddhism is that existence is necessarily miserable and the only path to Nirvana is through diligent devotion to Buddhistic rules. Developing the right kind of self-discipline offers a pathway out of delusion and towards true awareness. “ Neither abstinence from fish and flesh, nor going naked, nor shaving the head, nor wearing matted hair, nor dressing in a rough garment, nor covering oneself with dirt, nor sacrificing to a god, will cleanse a man who is not free from delusions.” Holding on to what does not actually exist will only lead to suffering.

Buddhists reject the idea of a separate god that is somehow set apart from everyday experience. Buddha taught that some Hindu gods do exist, but they do not have any control over daily human life, but instead they are subject to the same universal laws that humans must observe. The path of Buddhism is the singe-minded pursuit of an individual’s spiritual goals, not the establishment of new concepts of a god. He stressed the virtues of truthfulness, loyalty, learning, moderation in food and drink and believed in a modest, regular life. Too much of anything creates imbalance. He considered war to be the greatest evil and urged negotiation and compromise rather than violence. Buddha considered a prophet’s work on earth as helping the people master the important, yet mundane tasks of life such as remaining human in a world fast becoming increasingly hostile to human values and not simply all about creating miracles.

Before dying at the age of 80 in Kusinagara in Oudh, the Buddha announced that he would soon reach Parinirvana, the final deathless state abandoning the earthly body. He then ate his last meal and asked all his attendant disciples to clarify any doubts or questions they might have. They had none. Only then did he finally enter Parinirvana. The Buddha’s final words were, “All composite things pass away. Strive for your own liberation with diligence.” His body was then cremated.

Buddhism’s main writings are contained in a number of sacred books called the Pali Canon, as well in vast collections of Sanskrit, Tibetan, and Chinese sacred texts. By 200 BC Buddhism had spread throughout India and the Himalayas, but by the 7th and 8th centuries Buddhism began to decline and was relentlessly persecuted by the growing belief of Brahmanism, until finally, with invading Islam, Buddhism was stamped out of continental India, except for Nepal. However by this time Buddhism had spread to Tibet, Ceylon, Burma, Siam, China, and Japan, where it is still powerful today. In many places where Buddhism began as a missionary religion, it often took on aspects of the culture it became a part of, which is very different from other religions when at their missionary stage. Buddhism is not forced onto anyone by guilt or sword.

 

K’ung Fu-Tzu.  Confucius (Latin)

Confucius lived from 551 BC to 479 BC and was a Chinese philosopher and social reformer, born to an aristocratic, but poor family in the state of Lu, in the present day province of Shantung, during the Zhow dynasty. At 19 he married and took employment as a government official. His job was to prepare young men of families of wealth and influence for government service and to offer instructions on how to refine and stabilize the government of the day according to the principles of peace and equity. He endorsed the idea that government officials needed to be highly talented young men and so created the world’s first system of civil service exams, where would-be bureaucrats were required to compose essays demonstrating their knowledge of Confucian texts.

Confucius was eventually promoted to the rank of Justice Minister and enjoyed a successful and highly popular career. He had gained many followers, though he shared his wisdom only with a privileged few, mainly males of noble birth. Unfortunately his position also attracted jealousy and hostility and after a disagreement over the behaviour of the Duke of Lu, he left his position. For the next twelve years he became an itinerant sage and wandered northeast and central China. From court to court he went, seeking a sympathetic patron and eventually formed a group of disciples who followed wherever he went.

In 485 BC he returned to Lu where he spent his remaining years in reflection, teaching and writing his political and social beliefs, with a great emphasis on the importance of study. He felt people should think deeply for themselves and study as much as they can of the outside world.

After his death, his followers compiled a record of their master’s sayings and doings into a volume of memorabilia called the Analects. Other works that were attributed to Confucius were compiled later, and like the philosophy of Confucianism itself, are based loosely on his own teachings. He was a great moral teacher, who tried to replace the old religious observances with moral values as the basis of social and political order.

Confucius identified five ethical, binding relationships; parent-child, ruler-government official, husband-wife, older sibling-younger sibling and friend-friend. If these relationships are founded upon and made possible by what he emphasized as being the practical virtues of compassion and humanity, arising from genuine love (jen), with respect and personal effort, given according to individual circumstances including practical conduct, character and proper etiquette-based behaviour between both sides (Li), then one becomes chun-tzu or a noble individual. One should also develop the virtue of the concept of ren (“humaneness”), to strive to be emotionally centered (zhong) and to get along with others (shu).

His beliefs regarding human behaviour included; being kind to strangers and keeping the able ones near; feeding the hungry; thinking of the profit of all as being the real profit, and the mind of the whole country as being the real mind; being considerate of officials and acting as a father to one’s people; protecting the state before danger comes, by governing well; being diligent and careful, and maintaining the balance between leniency and strictness, between principle and expediency; behaving with generosity toward your fellow man; cultivating peace in your neighbourhood; prizing moderation and economy to prevent the lavish waste of your means; removing anger, hatred and ill will; showing the importance due a person and life. Basically, if people pursue courtesy, correct form and etiquette, reverence, and human benevolence within human relationships, harmony will exist at every level of society. As a couple of Confucianism tenets state, “What you do not wish done to yourself, do not do to others,” and, “The gentleman calls attention to the good points in others, he does not call attention to their defects. The small man does just the reverse of this.” He felt man had three ways of acting wisely, the noblest being after meditation or reflection. The second way is the easiest path, imitation and the third way of acting wisely is on experience, which is the bitterest.

Confucius studied five texts that were written years before his time and became known as the Five Classics. They are, the Book of Changes (I Ching), the Book of History (Shuh Ching), the Book of Poetry (Shih Ching), the Book of Rights (Li Chi) and the Spring and Autumn Annuals (Ch’un Chi), which chronicled major historical events. The I Ching (Book of Changes) became the most popular of all Confucian classics, and though not written by him, it was a manual of divination for those seeking guidance and based on the polar aspects of the primal energy – Yin and Yang. The interactions of these were seen as the basic, observable elements of cosmic development and evolution. I Ching was a symbol system used to identify order in random events and its text described a system of cosmology and philosophy, centering on the ideas of the dynamic balance of opposites, the evolution of events as a process and the acceptance of the inevitability of change. It was written in abstract line arrangements of 64 hexagrams. What is interesting is that comparatively, a human’s genetic code is formed by four amino acids, combined into triplets that make up our 64 part binary code.

The Four Books incorporated the works of Confucius, and along with the Five Classics, made up the fundamental teachings and text of Confucianism. The Four Books included the Analects (Lun Yu), the Great Learning (Ta Hsueh), the Doctrine of the Mean (Chung Yung) and the Book of Mencius (Meng Tzu). Confucius and his followers oversaw the development and formalization of many of these important writings. Although Confucius’ focus was on moral behaviour and social interaction within a society beneath lay a deep, abiding spiritual foundation. Confucius died in 479 BC at the age of 72 years, in his home state of Lu.

In the centuries following his death, the spread of Confucianism was promoted by various rulers and became the official Chinese state ideology by 200 BC. In 140 BC, persuaded by an essay written by Chinese scholar and promoter of Confucianism, Dong Zhong shu, in a literary competition, one of China’s greatest emperors, Emperor Wu, the 7th emperor of the Han Dynasty, adopts Confucianism at court and for the next two thousand years would become the dominant thought in Chinese government. It was eventually decreed that sacrifices and prayer should be made to Confucius in public schools. As Confucianism evolved and developed, encouragement of respectful relations between human beings remained the central and abiding element.

Lao Tzi   (Laozi)

Laozi was a philosopher of ancient China from the 6th century BC and considered to be the founder of Taoism (pronounced Daoism). He had a profound impact on Chinese literature, culture and spirituality, to the point where over four hundred years after his death he received Chinese Imperial recognition as a divine entity and referred to as Taishang Laojun, “One of the Three Pure Ones”. Many Chinese, both noble and common folk, claim Laozi is in their lineage. Some forms of Taoism can be traced to prehistoric folk religions in China which later morphed into a Taoist tradition.

There are three different stories within Chinese historical records where Laozi is an important character. These stories are combined and included in the texts of the Records of the Grand Historian (Shiji) by Chinese historian Sima Qian (ca.145–86 BC) and in Laozi’s biographies, written by Chuang Tzu (369-286 BC), who was considered to be the intellectual and spiritual successor of Laozi.

Traditional accounts of these stories state that Laozi was a contemporary of Confucius, and the Keeper of the Archives for the royal court of Zhou, until one day he departed for the West, dejected about the moral decay of city life and the decline of the kingdom. He was also known as Lao Laizi or Old Master, a contemporary of Confucius, and finally he was known as the Grand Historian and astrologer Lao Dan, who lived during the reign of Duke Xian of Qin (384 BC- 362 BC).

Laozi is regarded as the author of the book, Tao Te Ching (Daodejing) or “Way of Power.” Although only five thousand words long, the book explains the nature of Tao by addressing such matters as culture, emotion, nature, right action, language, and mysticism through reflection. Though there are questions pertaining to whether the principles of Tao were perhaps written by more than one individual, the Tao Te Ching is classed as being one of the most moving achievements of Chinese culture over the past two thousand years.

Tao (Dao) is all about accomplishing great things through small means, intertwining the beliefs of Tao, or the “way”, with the flow of the universe and the influence that keeps the universe balanced and ordered. The active expression of living the “way” is Te (De), which is virtue, personal character, inner strength and integrity.

The Tao Te Ching describes Tao as the mystical source and ideal of all existence, a substance which is unseen but does not hide, immensely powerful, yet supremely humble and is the root of all things. Tao is infinite and without limitation, indistinct and without form and cannot be named or categorized. According to the Tao Te Ching, humans have no special place within the Tao, for they are just one of many manifestations contained within it. People have desires and free will which allows them to be able to alter their own nature; however, those who act unnaturally are the ones who upset the natural balance of the Tao. The book teaches that people need to return to their natural state and be in harmony with the other manifestations of the Tao. Language and conventional wisdom are taught to be critically assessed, for they are inherently biased, artificial, and limited. The basics that Tao teaches are self-sufficiency, simplicity and detachment, while the “feminine” qualities such as promoting longevity, equanimity and unity with nature are respected and revered.

Taoism’s emphasis on spontaneity and self-reliance is similar to Buddhism, as well as many other religious traditions. Taoism was influenced by Mahayana Buddhism, while Zen Buddhism would develop from Taoism. And like Confucianism; Taoism regards the book, I Ching as an inspired work worth studying. Laozi had much respect for the underlying principles of I Ching and of the Yin and Yang aspects of the universe. These concepts became particularly associated with the Taoists and are; simplicity ‑ the root of the substance that makes up the universe and the fundamental law that everything in the universe is utterly plain and simple, no matter how subtle or profound some things may appear to be; variability – by comprehending that everything in the universe is continually changing, one may realize the importance of flexibility in life and thus cultivate the proper attitude for dealing with a multiplicity of diverse situations, and finally; persistency ‑ the essence of the substance of the universe. While everything in the universe seems to be changing, among the changing tides there is a persistent principle – a central rule, which does not vary with space and time. This central concept of the Tao Te Ching is the state of Wu Wei, a state of calm and “free from desires.”

The concept of Wu Wei is very complex and defined as “effortless action”, “non-action” and “not acting”. The metaphor for the state of Wu Wei is Pu, “uncarved block of wood”, represents a passive state of receptiveness. Pu is a symbol for a state of pure potential and perception without prejudice. In this state, Taoists believe everything is seen as it is, without preconceptions or illusion. Pu is seen as keeping oneself in the primordial state of Tao. It is believed to be the true nature of the mind, unburdened by knowledge or experiences. In the state of Pu, there is no right or wrong, beautiful or ugly. What is artificial, strained and unnatural are put aside and what is sought is the natural and spontaneous impulses of one’s true self. But at the same time, though it teaches inaction, the idea of Wu Wei should not be misunderstood.

True inaction in Taoism is, “the most efficient possible action, the most spontaneous and most creative possible action, allowing activity to spring forth spontaneously and without conscious effort.” A Taoist who acts in accordance with this principle does not pursue a life of sloth or laziness, but one in which the least possible effort creates the most effective and productive outcome. In ancient Taoist texts, Wu Wei is associated with flowing water through its yielding nature. Water is soft and weak, but it can move earth and carve stone.

Laozi also believed that technology may bring about a false sense of progress. He did not reject technology, but believed that people should try to achieve the state of Wu Wei instead. To understand how the nature of the universe works before one goes off and tries to reinvent the wheel.

Taoist philosophy proposes that the universe works harmoniously in accordance to its own ways. When someone exerts his will against the world, he disrupts that harmony. Taoism does not say that human will is the problem, but rather it asserts that humans must place their will in harmony with the natural universe. It is a concept used to explain Ziran, “harmony with the Tao”. It explains that our values are ideological with ambitions of all sorts, originating from the same source. Laozi used the term broadly with simplicity and humility as key virtues, often in contrast to selfish action. On a political level, it means avoiding such circumstances as war, harsh laws and heavy taxes. Some Taoists see a connection between Wu Wei and esoteric practices, such as meditation and the emptying of the mind of bodily awareness and thought.

The Tao Te Ching contains specific instructions for Taoists relating to qigong, meditation using breathing techniques to bring energy through the body, and preaches the way to revert to the primordial state. This interpretation supports the view that Taoism is a religion addressing the quest of immortality. Reverence for ancestor spirits and immortality are also common in popular Taoism. Organized Taoism distinguishes its ritual activity from that of the folk religion, which some professional Taoists (Daoshi) view as debased. Chinese alchemy, astrology, cuisine, several Chinese martial arts, Chinese traditional medicine, and Feng shui (utility of the laws of heaven-astronomy and earth-geometry to help improve one’s life by surrounding oneself with positive energy or qi, which is the essential energy of action and existence) have all been intertwined with Taoism throughout history. While Western theology is more about the negative, using fear as both the weapon and the tool, Taoism has come to represent the positive forces of the universe and uses peace.

Under Taoism, the ideal personal situation is attainable through prolonged observation and meditation and is one of utter simplicity with profound faith in natural processes and being above short-sighted, petty cravings and grasping at material things.

The Taoist view of sexuality is considerably different than the beliefs and attitudes known in the West, and is considerably more at ease. The body is not viewed as a dangerous source of evil temptation, but rather as a positive asset. Taoism rejects Western mind‑body dualism. Mind and body are not set in contrast or opposition with each other. Sex is treated as a vital component to romantic love; however Taoism emphasizes the need for self-control and moderation. Complete abstinence from sex is oftentimes treated as equally dangerous as excessive sexual indulgence in unnatural ways. The sexual vitality of men is portrayed as limited, while the sexual energy of women is viewed as boundless. Men are encouraged to control ejaculation to preserve this vital energy, but women are encouraged to reach orgasm without restriction. Taoists believe that a man may increase and nourish his own vitality by bringing a woman to orgasm, thereby “activating” her energy and attuning it with himself. This is considered to be of benefit to both.

Some of the many tenets of Taoism are the concepts that “- force begets force – one whose needs are simple can fulfil them easily – material wealth does not enrich the spirit – self-absorption and self-importance are vain and self-destructive – victory in war is not glorious and not to be celebrated, but stems from devastation, and is to be mourned – the harder one tries, the more resistance one creates for oneself – the more one acts in harmony with the universe (the Mother of the Ten Thousand Things), the more one will achieve, with less effort – the truly wise make little of their own wisdom for the more they know, the more they realize how little they know – when we lose the fundamentals, we supplant them with increasingly inferior values which we pretend are the true values – glorification of wealth, power and beauty beget crime, envy and shame – the qualities of flexibility and suppleness, especially as exemplified by water, are superior to rigidity and strength; – everything is in its own time and place – duality of nature complements each other, instead of competing with each other, like the two faces of one coin as one cannot exist without the other – the differences between male and female, light and dark, strong and weak, help us to understand and appreciate the universe – humility is the highest virtue – knowing oneself is a virtue – envy is our calamity, overindulgence is our plight – the more you go in search of an answer, the less you will understand – know when it is time to stop and if you do not know, then stop when you are done.”

Taoism has served for centuries as a platform for personal growth and as an “escape” from important but ultimately irresolvable questions about social structures. By its very nature of emphasising integrity, authenticity, and relaxed, attentive engagement with the world, Taoism generally refrains from trying to influence political or social institutions. The political side of Taoism holds that the best model for government includes a ruler who rules according to few restrictions and directions as possible, and simply guides the populace away from want and turmoil. Chinese political theorists influenced by Laozi, have advocated humility in leadership with a restrained approach to statecraft, either for ethical and pacifist reasons, or for tactical purposes. In a different context, various anti‑authoritarian movements have embraced the Laozi teachings on the power of the weak. For instance, “As to dwelling, live near the ground. As to thinking, hold to that which is simple. As to conflict, pursue fairness and generosity. As to governance, do not attempt to control. As to work, do that which you like doing. As to family life, be fully present”. When Laozi spoke about, “As to governance, do not attempt to control”, he did not mean that Tao holds social forms to be meaningless or without merit, but simply believes that conscious efforts to control people and events are counterproductive.

Overall, Taoism refers to a variety of related philosophical and religious traditions and concepts, which have influenced East Asia for over two thousand years, some of which have spread to the west and whether Laozi was the founder or not, today, Taoism is one of the world’s great spiritual traditions. Taoism has never been a unified religion and is rarely an object of worship, but rather consists of numerous teachings based on various revelations. Therefore, different branches of Taoism have very distinct beliefs, but there are still certain core beliefs that all the schools share. These are called the Three Jewels of the Tao, compassion, moderation, and humility, which emphasizes that a human being may gain knowledge of the universe by understanding them self. The Three Jewels are also translated as kindness, simplicity (or the absence of excess), and modesty.

 

Buddha               http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3313/3251271485_bd37ac1b02.jpg

Confucious         http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3122/3142393525_0d8491cb1b_m.jpg

01/24/12

A Stream of Prophets – Abraham and Moses

The “New Chronology”

The chapters, Abraham and Moses, are based on the theory of the New Chronology and the books by David M.Rohl, “From Eden to Exile” and “A Test of Time”, as well as archaeology and biblical history. Thus, some of the biblical references or stories included here have actual archaeological evidence to support them. Over the last couple of centuries scholars have inadvertently reconstructed the ancient timeline of the pre-Christian era in such a way that it has become artificially over-extended by some two hundred to three hundred and fifty years. What this means is that the civilizations of the ancient Near East have been misaligned with biblical history, so that many events in the Old Testament cannot be found in the archaeological record. Many researchers have found that this stretched timeline detached the historical accounts of the Bible from its true archaeological setting; archaeologists have been searching for evidence of the Old Testament stories in the right place but in entirely the wrong time. For example: If you were to look for the fallen walls of Jericho in the levels of the Late Bronze age at Tel es-Sultan (Arabic name of the ruins of Jericho) when it was supposed to have happened, you will not find them. But if you dig several metres deeper, the fallen walls of Joshua’s Jericho are there to be unearthed. Indeed they had been, but were unrecognized for what they were.

Scholarship says the bible is almost entirely mythological fiction, books of lessons taught through parables. The hypothesis of the New Chronology proposes that the Old Testament is essentially correct in most of its major events and characters but certainly not in every detail. The New Chronology has readjusted the timeline, removing the extra years introduced by modern scholarship. Most of the  books were also written centuries after the fact and there has proven to be far too many translation errors of the original texts to deem what is written to be actual fact in all cases, but the New Chronology now makes it perfectly feasible to fit the biblical story into a more true and workable framework.

This theory of the New Chronology is put forth by noted British, historian, author, pre-eminent Egyptologist and archaeologist, David M Rohl, as well as many other scholars and specialists from many different scientific and historical disciplines, including Peter James, et al in their 1991 work, Centuries of Darkness.

The Institute for the Study of Interdisciplinary Sciences (ISIS) has published nine volumes of the Journal of the Ancient Chronological Forum (JACF) and is now established as a recognized forum for the debate on the New Chronology thesis, as well as other chronological and historical issues raised by Old World archaeology.

Abram (Abraham)

Abram, who lived from approx. 1900 to 1825 BC, is known as the patriarch of the Hebrew people. He was the son of Terah and eldest brother of Hahor and Haran, from the Sumerian Town of Ur (Ur of the Chaldees people) in Upper Mesopotamia (present day Kurdistan in Northern Iraq), where his family, an ancestral tribe of herders, had settled. Traditional oral genealogy of Abram’s tribe claimed descent from the great ancestor Shem, son of Noah, who himself was a descendant of Adam.

By 1900 BC the Sumerian Early-Dynastic period had ended along with the Egyptian Old Kingdom. Many of their pyramids and ziggurats, already more than eight hundred years old were still standing, though decades of drought, famine and a series of earthquakes destroyed many of the old Sumer cities and lands of the Mesopotamia plain. The people had migrated into the countryside, becoming nomadic tribes wandering about with their small flocks, forever seeking water and pasture, simply just trying to stay alive. They had numerous gods.

Eventually Abram’s father Terah, brought the family to Haran (ancient city of Mari), a trading center on the Euphrates River, in present day Iraq, where Abram would marry Sarai (Sarah) and become a wealthy landowner. In approximately 1855 BC, Abram’s father passed away leaving Abram responsible for their people. Before long Abram started hearing a voice in his head, who he determined to be the tribal god of the moon, El. The voice commanded him to leave Haran for a new promised land and to become the founder and leader of El’s people. Abram would wander off from time to time and have discussions with El, who asked for Abram’s people’s devotion and that they were to only worship him alone as the one God.

Through visions El spoke to Abram, instructing him that the members of his family were to never marry outside of their clan and that they would develop a new race. They were also instructed to worship and honour their one god through animal sacrifice. Abram soon gathered together his and his nephew Lot’s families and with their flocks of sheep and goats, started moving towards their promised new home in Palestine. Giving up his pagan beliefs, numerous gods and ties to his people.

They passed through Syria and made their way to Shechem, known today as Nablus, in Jordan. There he built an alter to El near the sacred oak tree of Moreh, and prayed to El, who appeared and promised once more, that Abram would indeed be given, as promised, the land known then as Canaan. The voice of God in Abram’s head would be with him all his days, and even though he sometimes lacked faith, and often demonstrated a lack of patience, Abram was a man always concerned about his fellow man, often praying to his god for guidance for sinners including himself. He believed in accountability. This trait no doubt was integral to him becoming such a respected leader amongst his people.

They continued on their journey through the hills of Jordan until they reached the Negeb, an arid region that bordered on the Sinai near Egypt. The trip from Haran to this place had taken them two years. Each place they came to brought the hope of settling down, but the severe famine conditions continued to prevail over the area. For years after great earthquakes ravaged the land around the Nile Valley and the heartland of Sumer which lay along the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and lands became ever the more arid, with the deserts expanding. Famine was everywhere. As many other starving, nomadic bands from the near east were doing, Abram took his growing tribe and flocks across northern Sinai into Egypt.

As a foreign tribal leader of some stature, Abram had to pay his respects to the Egyptian king at his summer palace at Hat-Rowaty-Khety, which later grew into the great Egyptian city of Avaris, in the district of Goshen. Today it is known as Tell el-Dab’a in the north-eastern region of the Nile Delta. When Abram stood before the Pharaoh, Nebkaure Khety IV, he couldn’t help noticing that the pharaoh was openly infatuated with his wife Sarai. The pharaoh simply could not keep his eyes off of her. Abram feared for his life if he spoke out, for the pharaoh was all powerful, so he told the pharaoh that Sarai was his sister, not his wife. Over the next couple of weeks the Pharaoh could think of no other and finally he had Abram appear before him once more, where he asked Abram that perhaps Sarai could be given to him as a diplomatic gift. Abram stayed solemn feeling he could not refuse, and agreed to his wife being taken to the royal harem to become a queen of Egypt.

Over the next year Egypt began to suffer, first from a very hot and prolonged summer, where animals and people died in the thousands, to the oppressive heat. This was followed by a winter which was much the same- hot and arid. Asiatic plagues then swept through Egypt affecting much of the population. Spring arrived but the rains failed to appear in the area of the Nile’s source, the highlands of Ethiopia, and the river dropped to its lowest level in Egyptian memory. Famine and insurrection began to rear their ugly heads. With his realm disintegrating around him the Pharaoh summoned his advisers to counsel him on a remedy and to seek ways to appease the gods. In their discussion one of his courtiers revealed the fact that the Queen Sarai was actually Abram’s wife, not his sister. The Pharaoh now understood why, ever since their marriage Sarai had spurned all his advances to share his bed with her. The Pharaoh decided that perhaps if he were to return Sarai to her rightful husband, the gods would be appeased and his country given relief. He confronted Sarai who could not deny the rumour. He arrested Abram who confessed to the deception, and admitted he did it only out of the fear for his own life. Abram was lucky that Nebkaure Khety IV was a wise and respected leader of his people, and seeing no advantage to killing them, he banished Abram, Sarai, and their people from Egypt.

Abram and his people re-entered Sinai, once more to seek a place of their own. Abram’s nephew, Lot, with his own extended family and followers were themselves the size of a small tribe. With both tribes having large herds of sheep and goats, they decided to part ways to find richer grazing and water for their herds. Abram’s tribe remained on the plateau near the village of Hebron south of the town of Shalem with Mount Hebron towering over the plain, with Jerusalem nineteen miles (30 Km) to the northeast. Lot’s tribe eventually settled down on a fertile stretch of coastline on the west side of the Salt Sea (the Dead Sea) near the city and mining metropolis of Sodom, in present day Jordan.

Years go by and then one day, while sitting beneath an oak tree near Hebron, Abram is confronted by exhausted refugees who brought news of a great battle in the Jordan Valley, where four powerful rulers of Mesopotamia had attacked the Amorite and Amalkite cities around the south shore of the Salt Sea and that his nephew, Lot, and his family had been taken as slaves.

That night Abram gathered three hundred and eighteen of his best fighting men and over the next few days shadowed the Mesopotamia army as it victoriously marched back up the Jordan valley. Finally one night, Abram saw an opening and made his move; they attacked the soldiers guarding the prisoners and released the captives, then filtered back into the night, saving Lot and his family from a life of enslavement.

All their years together Abram and Sarai had not been able to have children, though they prayed to their God endlessly for a healthy child. Their one God eventually answers and tells him that Abram would have as many descendants as the stars in the sky and changes his name from Abram (exalted father) to Abraham (father of the multitude). Sarai is changed to Sarah, and because of their devotion they would bear a child.

Twelve years before, Hagar, Abraham’s Egyptian concubine and one of his many wives, had given birth to his first son Ishmael, which had infuriated Sarah. But now, at long last and well past childbearing age, Sarah gave birth to Isaac. Sarah was proud of the fact that since she was the tribal leader, Abraham’s, principle wife with Isaac now outranking Ishmael in status and inheritance. Out of Abraham’s many wives, open conflict grew between Sarah and Hagar. In a fit of jealousy Sarah went to Abraham and demanded that Hagar and Ishmael be banished. She refused to allow her son’s status as heir to be undermined in any way. With a heavy heart, Abraham agreed to her wishes. Hagar and Ishmael were banished but not before their God appeared and said Ishmael would be blessed and become a father of twelve princes and would make a great nation. They would be fruitful and multiply. Ishmael and his mother eventually settled in the southern Desert of Paran in Sinai among the Bedouin tribes. Ishmael is recognized in Arabian folklore as the founder of the Arab Nation and with the arrival of the prophet Muhammad, centuries later, Islam would be born.

Abram also had a second concubine named Keturah, who bore him six sons. But Sarah continued her jealous ways and at her insistence, Keturah and her sons, along with supplies and the protection of a loyal band of retainers were sent away. This second exiled group headed east into the lands of present day Jordan, where they became the ancestral tribal leaders of Midian in north-west Saudi Arabia. The formation of traditional lifelong enemies between Arab and Jew begins here.

Life at this time was often brutal, with violent storms, floods, heat-waves, plagues, famine and earthquakes, which continued to ravage the entire area. Abraham and his people lived a nomadic life. Their homes were large goatskin covered tents, floored with carpets and comfortable, though they had to be moved often to find fresh pasture and water for their flocks and herds. The wells they did find, were dug out and lined with stone, and can still be seen today.

The way the people chose to deal with all the hardship became desperate and drastic. In order to appease their one true god through worship and great personal sacrifice, the institution of the sacrifice of the firstborn comes into being during these very difficult times. Whether animal or human, the first born would be sacrificed to God, so families began to sacrifice their firstborn children, most times by fire, hoping to show their gods their loyalty and devotion. This practise continued for many years and in many places.

When Abraham’s son Isaac was in his teens, Abraham had another vision where his God talked to him and told him he was very displeased with his people for burning their sons and daughters and demanded the ultimate sacrifice from Abraham. The next day, grieving terribly and with an unbearable weight pushing onto his heart, he loaded up some wood and headed north to the designated place of sacrifice on Mount Moriah, above the city of Shalem, with his son Isaac. As they stood before the altar there with the wood neatly stacked, Isaac realized he was going to be the burnt offering and in an act of total devotion to his father allowed his hands to be tied and quietly laid down upon the altar. No words would be able to express how either of them felt. Just as Abraham was lifting the bronze dagger over his son, he heard rustling in the bushes and looking over saw that it was a young ram stuck in a thicket. He took this as a sign that his son’s sacrifice was no longer required. Isaac was released and helped his father bring the ram to the altar for sacrifice, where its blood ran red. From this day on, Abraham’s people forbade the taking of human life for sacrifice, though the firstborn of animals could still be chosen. The tradition of parents blessing their children at birth began.

After the death of his beloved Sarah, Abraham would buy the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron from the Hittites, who had traditionally lived there. He also chose a wife for his son Isaac, the granddaughter of one of Abraham’s brothers, Rebekah, as well as selecting another wife for himself, Keturah, with their sons becoming the ancestors of the tribes of Dedan and Midian.

After giving away all his possessions to Isaac in his final days, Abraham finally dies in about 1815 BC, according to the Torah, at the age of 175, but in reality was probably closer to 75. He was well known as an overly righteous man and the father of the Levitical priesthood. Honoured for his consistent obedience to his one god and is quoted as being the Bible’s most outstanding example of faith. He was buried with his first wife, Sarah, in the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron. Abraham’s body was carried into the cave by his two sons Isaac and Ishmael, assisted by the sons of Keturah, who were close enough to attend the funeral. A Muslim mosque marks the spot of the cave today. His son Isaac and grandson Jacob are also buried there. The tribes of his people would become known as the race of the Hebrew.

The world’s oldest monotheistic religion, Judaism, holds its founder to be Abraham, and the story of the ancestors and descendants of Abraham would be passed down through oral histories and traditions, until finally being written down over one thousand years later. The stories became formalised as a religion, after the Jews were taken into exile in Babylon in 586 BC. Abraham is regarded as the father of not only Judaism, but of Christianity and Islam as well.

Moses

Moses, (Hebrew Mosheh, Egyptian Mose or Ramose) was inspired by his God to set the culture of his chosen people, the Hebrew, in motion towards their perceived territorial and divine inheritance of Palestine. Living from approx. 1525 BC to 1407 BC, Abram was the son of Jochebed and Amram of the Hebrew tribe of Levi and born in Egypt. The pharaoh at the time, Khaneferre Sobekhotep IV, had decreed to cull all the male infants of the expanding Asiatic population, especially the Hebrew, because of their warrior background and tribal structure. Throughout the land newborn baby boys were killed. Moses’ parents and sister, Miriam, inspired by the earlier stories of Sargon the Great, who lived from 2117 to 2062 BC and was the founder of the Agade dynasty, which would eventually become the Babylonian empire of Mesopotamia, was put into a basket as a baby and placed on a river, where the daughter of a chieftain found him and adopted him. Moses, originally named Hapimose, was also placed into a basket and floated away, to be found by Meryt, one of the pharaoh’s daughters, who would likewise adopt the infant.

Moses was raised and educated as a member of the Egyptian Royal household, and taught to read and write- hieroglyphic signs as well as the cuneiform of Akkadian. His education included Egyptian and Mesopotamia epics and stories, including the great Hammurabi Law Code of Sumer and the Epic Adventures of Gilgamesh, which included a story about a great flood. Over the next forty years he rose to become the pharaoh’s chief advisor. As an Egyptian Prince he fought for the pharaoh in a war in Kush and became ever more embroiled in dynastic rivalries and intrigue. While out riding his chariot one day he witnessed the beating of a Hebrew slave at the hands of an Egyptian, he became incensed at such cruelty and killed the Egyptian. Fearing a trial for murder and possible execution, he fled into the Midian desert. There he married a nomadic Midianite priest’s daughter and for the next forty years lived a simple life as a shepherd, raising a family.

It was during these years that Moses came to learn that the Hebrew people were descendants of Abraham, the patriarch with whom their one god had formed a covenant. With his skills of reading and writing with various texts and languages, he studied Sumerian and Babylonian tablets, which told epic stories and laws and rules for the earlier Sumerian people. Linking oral traditions of Moses’ ancestors and these readings, he began to discover his own roots and the origins of his own people.

The Hebrew people had been in Egypt for over 200 years, ever since Abraham’s great grandson, Joseph who had been sold to the Egyptians as a slave by his brothers and would later rise in stature to become an advisor to the Pharaoh’s court. His whole extended family, seeking refuge from famine in Canaan, soon followed him to Egypt. They became traders, prospered and grew in numbers. Before much time had passed they were perceived as a threat to the pharaoh and the court’s power and were enslaved, along with other Asiatic and African people and forced to work the fields and in construction. Although enslaved they believed in the new deity, Aten, familiar to the original, supreme Egyptian god Amun-Re (The Sun). Atenism was a very rare Monotheistic faith at that time. The sun god, Aten, was pictured as benevolent and humane, spreading the warmth of his rays and essential goodness equally to all men. It included the belief that the sun, by its daily movement, represented resurrection; life of the day, death at night and rebirth in the morning dawn.

While Moses was still a shepherd, it is said that one day a burning bush, representing his God, told Moses, to return to Egypt and free the Hebrew slaves. Moses’ god also revealed his holy and personal name, Yahweh (the Lord). Another day while out tending his flock, his staff transformed into a snake and then returned to the staff he knew. Once, he watched as his hand became leprous and was then restored. It is also said that his brother Aaron, a high priest among the nomads of Sinai, had a rod that could turn into a snake as well as sprout buds, blossoms and almonds overnight. Though Moses knew he should go back to Egypt and speak for himself and his people, it was a difficult decision to make. Eventually, in spite of his lack of confidence, he decided to bring his older brother, Aaron, to aid him and with his wife, Zipporah and his children he returned to Egypt.

The year was about 1450 BC and upon returning, Aaron and Moses began to petition the present pharaoh, Djedneferre Dudimose, who spent much of his time at his palace at Avaris (biblical Ramesses), for the freedom of the Hebrew people.

The pharaoh refused them each time because the backbone of the present economy was the slaves, not just Hebrew, but of many races. From cleaning the homes, to clerical work, to labour, the enslaved peoples of Egypt were productive elements in each level of society. At this time, Egypt’s population was about three million, with a bonded servant population of perhaps six hundred thousand. Those employed in full-time state building projects represented well over fifty per cent of the country’s entire labour force.

Moses warned the pharaoh that there would be trouble if he did not let the Hebrews go, but still he refused to consider the matter. But the word of Yahweh was spreading among the enslaved and attitudes were changing. Even the Egyptians themselves were beginning to change, with their empire now on the decline. The pyramids had been standing for well over 1000 years, but the pharaoh had lost much power since the earlier rulers for life was becoming more Asiatic than Egyptian, especially in the eastern areas of the Nile delta (biblical Goshen) where most of the population lived. The land seemed to be in constant upheaval, from earthquakes, to one of the most explosive volcanic eruptions ever seen, which happened more than 700 kilometres to the north; the island of Santorini, in the Aegean Sea.  The eruption created climate change that affected the whole Middle east for decades. Famine, drought, floods and plague forced the abandonment of most Sumerian cities, with many city states and monarchies disintegrating.

The initial eruption spewed massive amounts of ash into the air; days were dark and the sky became a cloud of acid particles and ash. It spread over 128,000 square kilometres as it blew southward over Egypt and Palestine. The tidal wave was beyond anything ever experienced and for months, as the volcano collapsed into itself, it continued to cause tidal waves and surges that created havoc on the southern coastline of the Eastern Mediterranean.

Along with the tidal surges and waves from the continuing effects of the Santorini eruption, the annual summer flood of the Nile, this particular year, as Moses pleaded his case for his people’s freedom from the pharaoh, seemed to be transformed into blood. A microscopic organism called red tide broke out upon the Nile, killing all the fish which were left rotting on the shores. Six to seven days later the amphibians (mainly frogs) moved toward the land, unable to survive among the rotting fish and lifeless water.Mosquitoes and fleas feasted on the dead fish during the day and bit into both humans and animals during the night. At first the people allowed the livestock to continue drinking from the river, until they too started to die by the thousands. The animal corpses attracted swarms of flies carrying the Anthrax virus began to feast on the living. The virus ran rampant. Upon their bodies boils and lesions appeared, followed by death. After the devastation of the red tide a vicious hailstorm swept across the land, hurling golf ball size lumps of ice upon the fields, wrecking the crops, destroying the homes and killing more livestock.

Another few months go by and a swarm of locusts moved through the Nile Valley from the south, a phenomenon which continues today and consumed everything before it. This was soon followed by a great dust cloud from across the Sahara hitting the Nile Valley at dusk. Still raging the next morning, there was no dawn light. The storm raged for three to four days and was devastating. The pharaoh and his people were in shock, with the economy in shambles, and the population starving. Death seemed to be everywhere. To try to stop the terrible natural events happening to them, the people, Egyptian and Asiatic alike, began to kill their first born to appease the gods to make it stop and to make the madness go away, even Dudimose killed his eldest son, an Egyptian Prince.

Amidst all this chaos, Moses kept warning the pharaoh to let the Hebrews go. At the same time, the classes of Egyptian society were being upended and began to collapse. Poor men became wealthy because the Hebrews began to plunder the city of all its valuables. Slaves “were no longer”. Greed and violence became everyday life and they knew no bounds, with the ego and personal desire ran amok. Palaces were sacked and rebellion was everywhere. Thousands had been killed by the forces of nature and the smell of death was everywhere. Rotting corpses, garbage, vomit, blood and waste filled the streets, with broken pottery carpeting the steps of the temples.

Finally the pharaoh succumbed and pleaded with Moses and the Hebrews to get as far away as possible from Egypt. Moses and his fellow leaders wasted no time and moved their people quickly. After digging up his ancestor Joseph’s coffin and taking all that was in the chamber, Moses gathered up his surviving family members, including his sister Miriam, who was also a leader amongst their people, and prepared to leave. The Hebrews had stripped the palaces of their gold, lapis lazuli, silver, turquoise, carmelion, and amethyst. Moses and 35,000 of his people headed north-east with thousands of ox carts, obese with what they carried, and as many sheep and goats. They met up with other groups of fleeing peoples along the way and by the second night, on the shores of Lake Timsah, (biblical, Etham), in the Nile Delta, their numbers swelled to nearly 40,000. And there they were confronted by a man-made channel that flowed northward. This crocodile infested waterway linked swampy, reed-lined lakes and extended from the Gulf of Suez in the south to the Mediterranean Sea in the north. This whole complex of pools, lakes and water channels acted as, part natural, part man-made, eastern border of the Egyptian empire. The canal known as Ta-Denit (the Dividing Waters) prevented Asiatic refugee and military incursions from crossing Egypt’s eastern border. Unable to cross, the Hebrews headed north and soon reached the “mouth of the canal” (biblical Pi-Hahiroth) where an Egyptian-made sand causeway was located. The highway to Canaan, known as the Way of Horus, began here. The causeway was very narrow and capable of taking only a few people abreast at a time. It was protected by the fortress outposts of Zile and Migdol, each garrisoned by a platoon of border guards. And as Moses’ followers now numbered 40,000, it would take too long to get everyone and their carts and baggage across. The causeway was flanked by the waters of Horus (Egyptian Shi-Hor) to the north and the shallow swamp, known as The Reeds (Egyptian Pa-Zufy, biblical Yam Suph or Sea of Reeds) to the south. Running out of room and time, Moses had led his followers into a trap. On their third night of their trek they camped beside the Sea of Reeds.

Back in Avaris, pharaoh Dudimose surveyed the destruction around him. Mobs roamed the streets seeking ways to vent their anger. Palaces and temples were plundered by the once enslaved. The Pharaoh regretting having sent the Hebrew slaves away and also very much angered by them, assembled an army of six hundred chariots to chase after and capture the Hebrew horde. When Moses and his followers awoke the next morning they could see in the west signs of the Egyptian army closing in on them; a great grey cloud laying just over the horizon. But as dawn broke, a violent wind blew up from the northeast, creating an impenetrable sandstorm. It was followed by another tidal surge caused by another piece, of what once was the island of Santorini, breaking off and crashing into the sea, hundreds of miles to the northeast. The shallow waters of the Reed Sea began to be pushed back by the increasing wind, exposing the sandy floor to the south of the causeway. A passage across to Sinai, about 100 metres wide, opened up and though burdened with their plundered loot, possessions, and driving their flocks of goats and sheep before them, Moses and his followers crossed the two kilometre long land bridge to safety. By midday the wind began to ease and the sandstorm abated yet the path to the Sinai remained open. The Pharaoh could see the Hebrews had made their way across and ordered his chariots to pursue them.

The chariots swooped down into the exposed bed of Pa-Zufy and as they closed in on the stragglers of Moses’ horde, the wheels of the chariots began to bog down in the soft, wet delta mud. With the wind lessening, the water of the marshes returned, and a tidal surge roared back into the path. Horses became panicked and the ground held the Egyptians in check like quicksand. The more the soldiers and horses floundered and tried to escape the more they sank into the mud. They soon found themselves up to their chests in a deadly mix of sand and water, and as the tide swept back in, man and horse alike, heavily dressed in trappings of warfare, were swept beneath the surface. In minutes Egypt’s military pride was decimated by the Sea of Reeds. The Hebrews now safely on the far shore, watched the carnage of both man and animal and cheered and rejoiced at the death and destruction they had just witnessed. Moses’ sister Miriam, led them in joyful singing and dancing in triumphant worship to their God.

Moses quickly moved his followers into Sinai, leading the mass of repressed, illiterate and ignorant people into a somewhat better life. They would wander the Sinai desert for 40 years and would become known as the twelve tribes. Their camps on this painfully slow journey through the Sinai wilderness were many, with food and water always in short supply because of their numbers. Though with their large flocks and herds of sheep and goats, there was plenty of meat and milk, along with flour and oils. A dietary treat was the resin that seeped out of the Tamarisk tree of the southern Sinai desert. Composed mostly of sugar, it was like a wax which melted in the sun. Sweet and aromatic, dirty-yellow in color, it was a respite from a basic diet. Unfortunately it would spoil in one day, and the Hebrew began to call it manna. During these years in exile they also began to worship their one god, now called Yahweh, together as a group, which was unusual for that time for worship had always been a solitary affair.

As the tribes ceaselessly wandered the barren deserts and mountains of the Sinai Peninsula, there was much hardship with limited food and constant drought. With increasing unrest, rebellion and fighting became common amongst the many tribes who as a whole became a grumbling and complaining lot. Impatience, idolatry, and immorality lay thick in their dust filled air.

Because of the people’s unruly attitude and self defeating ways, a few years after their exodus had begun; Moses announced to the chosen tribes, that because of their behaviour, they had proved themselves unworthy. So they would continue to wander in the desert for forty years, until such time as this present, unworthy generation would be dead. And only then, would the tribes be allowed to enter their “promised by their god,” the land of Canaan.

At one time, as his people camped nearby, Moses climbed Mount Sinai, where he disappeared for some weeks. When he reappeared he was carrying stone tablets upon which were carved the words of the covenant his people were making with their one god, Yahweh. These were the Ten Commandments. The first four are directed to man’s relationship with Yahweh and the last six to man’s relationship with man. The tablets themselves were written in the world’s most ancient alphabet, Egyptian hieroglyphs, but using Semitic letters, which later evolved into Greek. While he was away on the mount the people fell to selfish desires and digressed on many levels. There was idol worship of a gold calf they had sculpted and there was much debauchery. Upon seeing this, Moses became enraged at their ignorance of their one and only god. He smashed the tablets upon a rock and sent forth warriors. Many of his people were slain in punishment.

Moses then returned to the mountain and after some days returned with a new set of tablets, once again detailing the Ten Commandments. An Ark of the Covenant was built to house these tablets and the people carried them where ever they went. The Ten Commandments that Moses carved into the tablets were: Thou shall have no other gods; Thou shall not create, worship or serve any false idols; Thou shall not take the name of your Lord thy God in vain; Remember that six days you will work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath, and must be kept holy; Thou shall honour your father and your mother; Shall not commit murder, nor adultery, nor steal; One shall not bear false witness against your neighbour; And one shall not covet thy neighbour’s house, his wife or anything that belongs to him.

Both five hundred years later, when Israel was united and the Torah finally recorded by dozens of scribes, or over the many generations after Moses’ death and orally passed down, or even while he was still alive, the one God gave the people specific instructions and collections of rules. It is written that God passed on all this information himself, speaking from a great, dark cloud, that had hovered over the people after Moses had climbed down from the mountaintop.

The information contained all the rules the Hebrew would need to live their lives, including proper worship ritual, and moral, civil, and religious laws. They were the directions for their new nation, in how to live in relationship with their God, and to each other. Most all of humanity’s values, still to this present day, towards marriage and interaction between relatives and blood relations is based on these laws, with many of the laws dealing with practical, everyday difficulties of community life. These values included how to offer sacrifices, how to carry out ceremonial law, the duties of the priests, festivals to be celebrated each year, and worship rituals. There were financial arbitration laws. Money could be lent to the poor and needy, but interest could not be charged. There were even rules for the priests in what they were to wear (blue and gold), and how to adorn themselves, as well as hundreds of laws such as: If you buy a slave, he shall serve for six years and be set free in the seventh, without pay, and many other laws governing the treatment of slaves. The rules stated that he who strikes his mother or father shall be put to death; One will not wrong a stranger or oppress him; You shall not carry a false rumour, nor gossip, and will not join hands with a wicked man to be a malicious witness; You will not follow a multitude in doing evil; You shall cultivate on your land for six years and gather in its yield, but on the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow. And there were many laws dealing with such matters as theft and loss of property, crime and monetary fines and penalties. As to theft, if you were caught red-handed, you pay double the value or cost. It also covered such things as food and health laws, pledges and promises, offerings, and community purification and rules to guide judges, kings, priests, spiritual leaders, offenders, warriors, families, worshippers, divorces and the caring for the poor. One was to always judge fairly, hate was forbidden and though one was allowed to reprove, no vengeance or holding of grudges was tolerated. All together the Laws of Moses contained 613 specific commandments, of which 365 were stated negatively and 248 positively. The first two of the Ten Commandments came from Yahweh, and 611 commandments are said to have been given through Moses.

When the tribes of Moses made it to the regions of Kadesh and Moserah, and the Wadi Musa (Valley of Moses), they settled and stayed for many years. It was there, some say, that Moses, who had multilingual skills and the education of a prince of Egypt, began to compile the sacred history of the Children of Yahweh into the books of Genesis and Exodus. They were written on leather scrolls. Borrowing from texts he had read and studied earlier, of the Sumerian, Egyptian, and Babylonian cultures, Moses gave old traditions new meanings. The first two books of the bible, Genesis and Exodus are attributed to Moses, as are the next three, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, but the latter three were likely written by other scribes over many hundreds of years. These first five books of the Bible become known as the Torah and told of the creation and that there is one and only one God with ultimate authority and who possesses final dominion over the universe. Also that his people should share a common destiny and sense of collective purpose and responsibility to one another, as well as following the guidelines and rules their god, Yahweh, has passed down to them through his prophet Moses. Above all else, the god Yahweh tells Moses, that he demands loyal worship and obedient service.

Then came the day when Moses, now a very old man, made his way up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo and to the top of Pisgah, opposite Jericho, one of the earliest of all settlements. Yahweh met him there, appearing beside him and showing Moses all the land that lay before him, from Gilead to Naphatl, the land of Ephraim and Judea, as far as the Mediterranean Sea, the Negev to the south, and the plain in the valley of Jericho, as far as Zoar. And the god Yahweh said to Moses, “This is the land which I swore to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, I will give it now to your descendants. I have let you see it with your eyes, but you yourself will not go over there.” Moses would not be allowed to enter their promised land because earlier the tribes had complained about having not enough water, so their God had told Moses to speak to a rock so that it could produce water. Instead, Moses struck the rock with his staff, his only disobedient act, and for this one act God determined that Moses would not enter the Promised Land. Moses made his way back down the mountain, and died soon after in the land of Moab. Moses, the servant of the Lord God Yahweh, performer of miracles, Hebrew prophet and lawgiver was buried in the valley where he had died, but no man knows his resting place. It is written that when he died, Moses was 120 years old.

The twelve tribes that had left Egypt decades before at last headed out of the wilderness and, prepared with Yahweh’s instructions told to them and written down by Moses and kept in the Ark of the Covenant, they headed down into their “Promised land”. The many tribes of people of Canaan were collectively known as the Philistines and had already inhabited the area for over eight thousand years, living within city-states. Once covered in cedar and pine forests, the area had over the centuries, been nearly stripped clean by the Egyptians. Moses’ followers would find Palestine to be a barren, eroded, hilly country with few and limited resources; a narrow ribbon of land squeezed between desert and sea, as little as 65 kilometres across. Interestingly, this area included the saltiest body of water on the planet with the lowest point on the face of the earth, the Red Sea, as well as being one of the world’s most active earthquake zones.

The Hebrew, Joshua, son of Nun, Moses’ servant, led his people into war and conquest; to take what Yahweh had said was rightfully theirs. The earlier aspects of their faith – extinction of will, passive meditation, mournfulness, mysticism, and the softness of the Sun would not do. To achieve victory they now needed their god Yahweh to become a fierce, jealous god of vengeance with an “eye for eye” brutality. And he did.

The Promised Land was inhabited by powerful kings in strong walled cities, but over the next four hundred years, the chosen people Moses had taken out of Egypt, pillaged and beat much of Palestine into submission and finally a time came when the loose confederation of tribes finally united to become a nation themselves. Samuel, a seer, religious judge, and prophet was appointed as their king of the new united kingdom of Israel. Saul, the son of Kish, the head of a wealthy and influential family of the tribe of Benjamin was proclaimed king and war-leader soon after. The Hebrew’s new nation was called Israel and by 600 BC the now completed Hebrew bible, the Torah, gave birth to their own distinct religion, Judaism.

Although there are many prophets in the Torah, the Talmud, a collection of Jewish commentary written in about 400 AD, after the Hebrew people had once again had to flee, and had left Israel in what would become known as the Diaspora, recognized forty eight male prophets and seven women prophets. The women deemed prophets were, Sarah, Miriam, Devorah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah, and Esther. Of the male prophets, Moses would become one the most important and respected. The words and acts of these prophets of Judaism would continue to guide the Jews, wherever in the four corners of the earth they scattered and settled. Unfortunately, though the Torah spoke of tolerance, as did many religions, it often fostered racism and the Jewish people would forever be persecuted, wherever they lived. Unlike other religions, Judaism is not for everyone, but only for the Jewish people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

11/13/11

A Stream of Prophets (2009) Prologue

“If people bring so much courage to this world, the world has to kill them to break them. So of course, it kills them. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these, you can be sure that they will kill you too, but there will be no special hurry.”       Ernest Hemingway,   “A Farewell to Arms.

Prologue

The central message of many of the great teachers of wisdom that have come along, as well as the multitudes we do not know about, and yet who have entered each of our lives at some point in time, is that they all stressed a spiritual awakening, and the need to rise above materialism, fear, inequality, and/or persecution. They appear to help us rid ourselves of the physical substances we identify with such as the essential natures of who we are which only keeps the ego, the collective madness of our species, in place and imprisons each of us separately within our own conditioned personalities and the voices in our heads.

In many cases these teachers are simple, humble heroes, courageously facing off against the forces of greed, fear and the lust for power. Forces that are forever being pushed along by humanity’s ego and which have a thirst made never to be satisfied. Its infection comes by way of warfare and violence, and its presence has tainted nations, religions, beliefs, and personal relationships. This gap between the way human behaviour is and the way it ought to behave, is from where many philosophers speak and teach. They realize that empathic consciousness overcomes this gap; for there is no dividing line between what one is and what one should be, for they are one in the same.

The earliest of prophets taught about the need for enlightenment, salvation, and awakening. They were talking about transformation. They spoke of sin, suffering and delusion and they also shared the insight of a transformation of the nature of the human condition and of what lies within our consciousness. Trying to become a better human being is a great idea, but unless there is a change of consciousness it is yet another form of self enhancement, the desire for a better self image. One cannot become good by trying to be good. One must find the good that is already within us, and allow it to emerge. But to emerge, there has to be a change in our state of consciousness.

In most cases, the message that the prophets were trying to get across arose from their concern for their people, and their collective sense of existence. What they are trying to communicate often times goes against the grain of the framework that our sense of existence is based on, our world-view. Strangely enough many of us don’t really acknowledge a world view, but most prophets had a very good understanding of this. The world-view is what was created by individuals who ran and continue to run societies and are basically behaviour control methods. They include laws, patriotism, religion, propaganda and nationalism and operate nationally, at the community level and the unconscious level. The princes of capitalism don’t like people walking around preaching spirituality and world peace, let alone inner peace.

For many of the prophets, after they had been ridiculed, reviled, spat on, stoned, beaten, imprisoned, or killed, their messages would often be misinterpreted, distorted, and misunderstood by the disciples that followed them. Other men took the teachings and organized them into books; and the belief of a religion came to be. Soon there was no more need to seek enlightenment, but instead, in the belief of one god, and to serve and worship him on the basis of guilt.

And that was one of the main problems with the teachings of many of the prophets, especially before the 16th century. Nearly all religions had stubbornly resisted any attempt to translate their sacred texts into languages everybody could understand. It became more important to believe, but not think.

Over the years many things were added and edited that had nothing to do with the prophet’s original intentions and lessons. Incredible publicity campaigns grew up after them, spreading the word. With the best scribes and much influence from the literate elite of society who attained much wealth along the way, the original teachings of many of the prophets, and the changes they brought about, created cultures. Culture became the beliefs, values, behaviour, and material objects that constitute many peoples’ way of life. Our culture and where we live, not only shapes what we do, it also forms our personalities. The religions that formed from these original teachings became divisive and not unifying at all, because they brought more violence, hatred and racism and a greater lack of tolerance for other people and other religions. They became ideologies, belief systems that people could identify with and use to enhance their false sense of self. They who believed were right while all others were wrong. Others were either nonbelievers or wrong believers and could be killed because of it. Convert and repent or die. If you did not think as they did, you were considered evil. As religions grew it soon became all about conflict between the dominant and disadvantaged, the rich and poor, the black and white, Aboriginal and Anglo-Saxon, Westerner and Asian, Christian and Muslim and on and on and on.

Far too many people do not realize the differences between spirituality and religion. Having a set of thoughts regarded as the absolute truth, dictated by a belief system, does not make you spiritual. The more one tries to make these fabricated beliefs a part of their thoughts and identity, the more one moves away from the spirituality within themselves. That is why the original teachings of many prophets, such as the need for mankind to transform consciousness, have arisen again, but this time outside the structures of most organized religions. Though structures are still needed in modern societies because of the size of our population and the fact that our species is flawed, in that we are a menace to ourselves because we continue to fall into disasters caused by our passions. Thus man-made systems have to be created and put into place to keep our desires in check and on an even keel.

Many of the prophets were spiritually enlightened individuals who liberated themselves from attachments that led to selfish desires. They were people who preoccupied themselves with thoughts, feelings, and aspirations for their fellow human beings. True prophets believe in the value of human life, any human life. Both preaching and open dialogue are used. And more often than not, the messages indicate that there is always a reason for what happens in our lives. It may not be the most obvious reason, but if you look hard enough you will find it, as nothing really happens by chance. The proof lies in the universe itself, which has proven time and time again, and against all odds, that it is a very meaningful place indeed.

Appropriately enough, the journey to enlightenment, bears many comparisons to the composition of the classical heroes’ tale. Though a few prophets do reach the final stage of enlightenment, the reality is, it is very rare. The majority of prophets are simply, mere mortals, who have flaws just like everyone else; ambitions and regrets, wives, sons and daughters. But something inside them would arise, and above all they held dear, even their own personal safety, they felt compelled to throw themselves onto the tears in the fabric of our existence. To stand up and say what was needed to be said. And if they were righteous and true in their stance and point of view, many would come to support them, and to revile them.

Reaching enlightenment is where one feels to be a part of the realization of spirit, of the energy that exists in the global human community. The enlightened do not necessarily believe in a god, but they seem to carry a grace that makes them more aware and complete than other fellow humans. They do not think of themselves as perfect, rather they think of all humans and nature, and hold dear the aspect of each.

The enlightened are able to get along with anybody, and are able to have dialogue with all people, no matter their stage of spirituality or faith-based tradition. They live each moment as it happens. The problems the enlightened and many prophets have, as mentioned earlier, are the structures that make up our societies, the world-view that has been constructed by despotism and religions. These structures are what we sustain ourselves with for personal and corporate survival and which are significant, to our existence. Structures of institutions, habits, culture, and tradition, are the things that people cherish, and which brings about social cohesion, religious faith and national pride. But if these values disappear and we no longer have our distractions and allegiances of the ego, then the majority of the populations of most countries would then clearly see their exploitation and with the curtain drawn back would see the flagrant, harsh, and unadorned reality of the differences between the corporate elite and the worker. It is why many who reach enlightenment are murdered at the hands of those who they had hoped to change.

According to Ken Wilber’s “Integral Spirituality,” there are six stages of spiritual evolvement. The first stage on the road to enlightenment begins when we reach about the age of seven years. Before and after birth we make no distinctions at all about anything. By seven, our thoughts are made up by what we’ve learned from our parents, the surroundings of our childhood and interactions with other children. As for spirituality, our thoughts are made up of unconscious and mostly religious fantasy. The next stage is when we begin to hold certain aspects of these myths as literal and absolute truths. We also start believing in miracles. The third stage is when we move beyond our family’s faith and start accepting the judgments of others, such as teachers, the media, and priests. This is when we first start developing a loyalty to a certain ideology, group or lifestyle, whether it is religious, the military, artistic, sport, economic, or political.

The fourth stage is where self, our inner being, comes into contact with the ego. Spirituality suddenly becomes more of an individual struggle. One becomes more reflective, concerned about achieving their full potential through creativity, independence, and a grasp of the real world, and to take more responsibility for their beliefs. It is the time one starts asking if there is anything beyond this deity-ruled world. Much of what they seek is hidden behind words and language. It becomes a time when one stops ignoring those little voices in our head that are forever questioning orthodoxy and when one will begin to seriously examine other religions and belief systems and many times coming to the realization that some of one’s personal convictions are very relative to them. Many organized religions fearfully believe that this stage is the “mortal sin” of humans in thinking of self and not ego controlled thoughts. To seek knowledge and to ask questions, to be more confident or to use reason have all been deemed “evil thoughts” by many of the faithful. The most important characteristic of this stage is when we realize that each one of us has a choice in how we live our lives. Allowing the masses to know they have a choice is what most scares the few at the top.

The fifth stage is integration. It is when we recognize our weaknesses and can see truth over contradictory and absurd beliefs. We no longer take literally the stories of spiritual and cultural traditions, but instead seek the truth which is deep within each one of us. We study all the philosophers and scriptures, using their symbolism to bridge the gap between rational and intuitive. Both sides of our brain working together allows us to seek that which is not directly visible in the material world.

The final stage is enlightenment and being aware of each moment of each day. It has nothing to do with what you do with your body or mind; it has to do with what you do with your soul. One does not need classes, religious ritual, or seminars to find out who they are. Love without exception, without requirement, and without wanting or needing anything in return. One achieves enlightenment when their life possesses happiness, peace, and wisdom, and they share these with others. They see that life is no longer just about them, but instead is about everyone else that their spirit touches. It is this final stage of enlightenment that the earliest priests and rulers tried to hide from the masses.

After the first cities arose more than five thousand years ago, they had quickly begun expanding outwards. In conquering nearby lands for room to grow more food to feed and work their increasing populations, they rolled over other cultures and cities for their wealth, natural resources and people, who would become their slaves with generation after generation of warfare, enslavement and bloodshed, compounded regularly by drought, famine or flood. Every city-state was busily rushing around using humanity as fodder with each frantically trying to claim the biggest piece of the pie.

No doubt because of this Dynastic Age world-view, which lasted two thousand years, in about 800 BC, many cultures would come to similar solutions to the war and violence that plagued their respective societies. Before this time, the majority of the planet was ruled by their kings, pharaohs, priests, and hundreds of gods, with two prophets, Abraham and Moses standing out because they would be among the first to believe in only one god, were respected and feared leaders of their own distinct tribe and their stories would become written word.

But after 800 BC, what the German philosopher Karl Jaspers would call the Axial Age began and gradually ended about seven hundred years later. The Axial Age was an explosion of spiritual growth and influx of prophets all over the planet. It was like the world had decided to come up for air, and by taking a big breath, it brought out its consciousness. But then that is what a true prophet’s role in society is, promoting change, based on their messages and actions.

The similar solutions these respective societies would come to, was the development of four great religious traditions; Confucianism and Daoism in China, Hinduism and Buddhism in India, Monotheism, from which would arrive Judaism, and later on, Christianity and Islam and the philosophical rationalism in Greece.

By 800 BC the Hebrew tribes had conquered all of Palestine and Israel and finally laid claim to their promised land. At last there was a measure of peace. The scribes began writing and copying the books of the Torah, which would become known as the Old Testament and be written for only the Jewish people. The stories of Abraham, Moses, the history of the Hebrew tribes, and the belief in only one god, were finally being recorded and fine tuned, though all around them were tribes who believed in many gods. The preceding centuries had created much waste and injustice from mankind’s unending and brutal violence upon itself. And it would have an effect on the Hebrew, where, though their god was still the father, demanding, and threatening, and still existed outside of humanity, he would now become more of a personal god, more responsive and the sole creator of the universe.

At nearly the same time, the Greeks, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle threw themselves into the roles of being prophets of humanity and nature, through the theory that reason provides the primary basis for knowledge rather than experience, authority, or spiritual revelation. They also brought about a new system hoping it would end the carnage of the past. It was a system where the exchange and discussion of ideas were allowed, a system that protected the right of each citizen to hold their own view and opinion, no matter their strength. This system, based on interaction, would become democracy.

In the East, Buddha, Confucius and Lao Tzi brought forth simplicity and inner and cultural peace by taking the concept of a god and accepting it as a force, but a force that could only be found through enlightenment. God became a consciousness one could be connected to on the inside, instead of a god one had to please by obeying his laws and rituals. It was a shift in awareness for the Chinese, an opening that brought their collective consciousness into harmony and security.

Oceans away, the Olmecs and Aztec would soon construct their pyramids and temples, and begin sacrificing the blood of their people to appease their own gods.

Many of the Axial Age prophets were not concerned with doctrine or the supernatural. The belief was in the behaviour of humanity. “What mattered was not what you believed, but how you behaved,” behaviour that was characterized by an emptying of the self, the abandonment of egotism and materialism, and having compassion for others. The focus was now about how one treated their fellow man, and the idea that there was nothing wrong with who or what you believed in, as long as those beliefs impelled you to act with consideration toward others, especially strangers. These were new ideas to many people of the Axial Age, especially the realization that one’s behaviour, rather than one’s belief, was what was important in both life and community.

The main principle these prophets gave was hope. They made changes that in practical terms, brought people out of an abyss. They taught that the quest for happiness and harmonious interaction between individuals and groups, involved some kind of spiritual journey, whose completion, though sometimes beyond the limits of human emotion and ordinary understanding, would bring fulfilment and remove the pain, tribulation, tragedy, worry, and confusion. A sense of purpose of why we are here began to develop. They also emphasised the importance of resolution, of being vigilant and aware of one’s path. And most importantly, when journeying to fulfilment, one should not look back.

The concepts of the Greeks, Asians, and the knowledge contained in Babylon, would have a profound effect on what would eventually become the Bible and later the Qur’an, as well as on the rest of the world. But unfortunately much of what was envisioned during the Axial Age would be pushed to the sidelines, hidden and banned with Christianity, and then Islam, arising after the Greeks and the Romans were no more. By 900 A.D., most Western cultures would revert back to adopting a religious view that society expressed God’s will. Christianity and Islam saw their societies and their worlds as the product of supernatural forces and lived their lives guided by selfish human nature and the worship of different versions of the same god. Social thought became focused on what society ought to be. And it would not be until 1500 A.D. that social thought would be based on the need to understand society as it existed. The changes in the spirituality of humanity during the Axial Age had profoundly affected people, and it had continued to run deeply until the 16Th century, where it once again arose from the mist, and sprouted the prophets, thinkers, and philosophers of the Scientific Revolution and humanity would develop a new world-view of heaven and earth. Then arrived the Age of Enlightenment in late 18Th century Europe, which would begin to shape the modern Western world.

The words of the prophets do overlap on many issues and what was and continues to be written of their teachings; identifies fundamental points of observances and rituals, and characterize ancient wisdom with contemporary language. They seem to share a common resource and spiritual heritage which allows its believers within a particular tradition, to identify, support, and commune with others, though not all of their new found knowledge went to the common people. In many cases, the theories and discussions and understandings were for the elite of society, who in most cases were the only ones who had the idle time to spend their days arguing points of philosophy and life, as well as being, in most cases, the only ones who could read.

The Greek philosophers, as well as men like Confucius taught only aristocratic men, sharing their wisdom with just a privileged few, mostly males of noble birth. Throughout much of human history, formal schooling was generally only available to the wealthy. Indeed, the Greek root of the word school, is leisure. Many of their beliefs and philosophies did eventually make it to the common man, but unfortunately not until hundreds of years later.

Many prophets were simply figureheads, patriarchs of beliefs that arose from their visions, meditations and reflections. Some scholars suggest that the visions and insights of the earliest prophets could very well have been a result of schizophrenia. And though some of the teachings of the prophets might very well have been based on haphazard fantasy, undeniably most are based on some sort of a sense of other levels of reality; forms of awareness that we in the modern West gave up in order to develop a more rational and more efficient way of thought.

Virtually all the brilliant thinkers of the ancient world were more interested in envisioning the “ideal” society rather than caring about the actual society around them. What they achieved worked its way down the chain eventually, but even then, only to the educated.

Other prophets dealt with issues, for social change, and brought forth values and norms for society. Values that would serve as guidelines for social living, and which would be culturally defined standards, such as desirability, goodness, and beauty, while beliefs would become specific statements on what the people held to be true and of what ought to exist in their lives. The norms of cultures are the rules and expectations by which a society guides the behaviour of its people. Values and norms do not describe actual human behaviour as much as prescribe how people of a society should act. The most important thing many prophets brought, besides hope, was change, because it is a fact, that new ideas create change in sociological thinking within a culture.

Since the first ancient civilizations, our lives have been framed by the social forces at work in our particular time and environment in which we happen to live in. Society is a complex system, and has always been characterized by inequality and conflict, which at times has created social change. However division in society has always been based on social inequality. Unequal distribution of wealth, income, education, power and prestige are all linked to the factors of race, ethnicity, gender, and age.

Typically, social structure benefits some while depriving others. But what often rises above these truths is the fact that shared values or social interdependence generates unity among members of society. And this is where most prophets have made their mark.

In religion, a prophet (or a prophetess) is a person who has encountered the supernatural or the divine, often one who serves as an intermediary with humanity, an agent of god. Though there are also prophets in music, science, philosophy, literature, and even in our daily lives, all of whom made a difference to our sense of existence, and who are not divine or supernatural in any way.  That is why authentic prophets by some are false prophets to others.

But ethical leadership is what the world desperately needs today. Our modern age came about after an age of enlightenment, while today it has become an age of entitlement. There is less gratitude and more attitude in today’s society because too many are living lives of flagrant consumption and yet at the same time acting so hard done by. Our attitude of not appreciating what we have, because of so much concern with what we want and can get is what is not allowing us to behave in a civilized manner anymore, to ourselves and to others.

This essay contains only a few of the untold numbers of prophets who have made a difference in their fellow human beings lives’, whether culturally, spiritually, scientifically, or behaviourally. It also includes prophets who preached a simple life apart from the materialistic world, and some who were prophets for justice, equality and peace, and strangely enough, most of the greatest prophets seem to always show up when their neighbours, people or culture, needs them most. Many of these prophets have also admitted, at least once in their lives, that when everything is said and done, “the most cherished thing we could do for each other, is to simply be a little kinder.” Or as the respected Jewish rabbi, Hillel, once answered a skeptic who had asked him to teach him the Torah, ” What is hateful to yourself do not do to another. This is the whole Torah, go and study it, the rest is commentary.”