Philosophy as the Art of Self-Initiation

Providing man with the means of cleansing and perfecting his nature, Philosophy as the art of self-initiation has a long-standing tradition, beginning in Greek coastal Ionia in 7th century BCE.As a form of meditation (Gr: Διαλογισμός), it has assisted man in his quest to answer fundamental questions by looking inwards for answers, while offering a chance to escape fate through personal progress. This becomes possible through a better understanding of our current situation and by connecting or reconnecting with our higher self.

With the use of dialectics, logic, mythological themes, and through the application of methodical questioning (Socratic method), philosophy has become the path of the middle way in the West. The known Delphic maxims “know thyself” and “do nothing in excess” both serve as a reminder to man of his mortality as well as his divine nature. When properly understood and applied in everyday life, they help the seeker of truth square his passions, divest his self of all dogma, and live a virtuous life in harmony with himself, deity, and his environment. 

Historically speaking, philosophy means the act of admiration and the loving of wisdom, with the objective to advance one’s soul towards freedom. But where is that admiration directed to? What is the nature of that wisdom? And what does the soul need to be freed from? Attempting to answer these three questions is not only a noble quest, but also the most important part of the process of philosophical thought and action.

Pythagoras of Samos (c. 570 – 495), the Greek philosopher and polymath, is credited with the creation of the term “philosophy”, as well as its fundamental definitions and applications as an esoteric practice/science. Iamblichus (c. 245 – 325 AD), a Syrian Platonist, informs us in his book “The Pythagorean Life,” that Pythagoras held the belief that “the most pure and un-adulterated character, is that of the man who gives himself to the contemplation of the most beautiful things, and whom it is proper to call a philosopher”. He goes on to say:

…the survey of all heaven, and of the stars that revolve in it, is indeed beautiful, when the order of them is considered. For they derive this beauty and order by the participation of the first and the intelligible essence. But that first essence is the nature of number and reasons [i.e. productive principles,] which pervades through all things, and according to which all these [celestial bodies] are elegantly arranged, and fitly adorned. And wisdom indeed, truly so called, is a certain science which is conversant with the first beautiful objects, and these divine, undecaying, and possessing an invariable sameness of subsistence; by the participation of which other things also may be called beautiful.

Within these lines, legitimate answers can be found to the first two questions regarding the nature of admiration and source of wisdom, as discussed earlier. In order to answer the third question regarding the soul’s advancement to freedom, one should view the topic from the lens of the Orphic tradition since Pythagoras, an initiate in this tradition himself, was greatly influenced by this ancient mystery school’s cosmology and theology. One of the core beliefs that the Orphic initiates held was that of the soul’s catharsis, progress, and perfection through initiation rites. Another is a firm belief in reincarnation and the soul’s eventual freedom from the human body, which was viewed as the tomb of the soul (see the myth of Dionysos Zagreus).

On the “En” (The One) of Plotinus

An excellent example of philosophy as a form of meditation can be found in the works of Plotinus (c. 204/5 – c. 270 CE), exact origin unknown), one of the first and most prominent in a long line of Platonists. To be more specific, in his Enneads (V8, 9), Plotinus delivers what appears to be an actual meditation practice, which summarizes a good amount of the philosophical ideas and Orphic beliefs discussed earlier. His meditation is an ancient esoteric practice stemming from the Orphic-Platonic tradition and serves as a means for self-initiation and participation in the higher self.

At this point, it is important to clarify one of the beliefs of Plotinus (that he held as an initiate in the mysteries) that has become a major source of confusion among academics as well as western esoteric arts practitioners. One of Plotinus’ core theological beliefs can be summarized by the maxim of philosopher Heraclitus, Gr: Εκ πάντων εν και εξ’ενός πάντα (En: Everything from one and from one everything), sometimes expressed in Latin: Omnia ab uno (En: Everything from one or all from one).

Plotinus’ understanding of the En or The One is deeply rooted in the Orphic-Platonic Cosmo conception and its first principles, and it is not to be confused with the understanding of God as it is found in the monotheistic systems of today. The En or God that Plotinus talks about can be equated with the “Unutterable Principle” of the Orphics. This Principle consists of a mystical potentiality and as Orpheus himself said, it cannot and should not be discussed or described since it is secret and has not expressed itself yet. It is the Ineffable and invisible dual natured (male and female) causality of all things and an original unity that can be studied only through its multiple expressions in matter (visible and invisible). It is the undivided unborn potentiality and causality of the natural Cosmos (the material universe). Unless this is understood thoroughly and applied in the mediation, its full potential will remain deactivated for the practitioner and its true gifts unrevealed.

Plotinus’ Meditation

Let us now perceive with our mind the sensible world, in a way that each of its parts remains as it is, without pouring together (without commingling) in a universal coexistence, as much as it is possible in a way that when an individual image appears, such as that of the outer uranium dome, then immediately (straight away) the image of the sun follows, along with that of the stars and then the earth becomes visible and the sea and all the animals, as this is indeed possible in a transparent sphere, where you can see everything in it.

If now there is inside your soul this illuminated image of a sphere, which contains within all beings, movable and immovable, or some that are movable and some that are immovable, keep that image and create in parallel another image, but this time subtract the volume, then additionally subtract space and the appearance of all matter inside of you and try not to create an image smaller in volume. Then call God that created this sphere that you have the image of and pray to him to come. But He will come, bringing with Him the world with all the Gods in it as One, and all the Gods that he is at the same time. And each One (of the Gods) is all of them, and they all coexist in one unity. (From Plotinus’ “Enneads,” translated from Greek).

Beyond this point in the text, Plotinus gives his own philosophical analysis of the meditation and clarifies that not every person will receive the same manifestation and only those who look frequently will be able to see the source of all substance and justice illuminating.

At the heart of Plotinus’ meditation lies the act of admiring the Cosmos, and the idea of an unbreakable unity between The One-All, the inner and higher self, and nature. Understanding this is imperative for the progress of one’s soul, and a worthy pursuit by any standard. By presenting western philosophy as a form of self-initiation (through silent meditation), and by utilizing Plotinus’ method, I hope to inspire an inner dialectic that actively contributes towards the achievement of that much-needed unity and justice within the individual, and eventually the family, the community, and the world in general.

Tony Crisos is a guitarist, educator, philosopher, and esoteric arts practitioner, born in Greece and now living in the USA.

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