Friday, 2 December 2011


Buddhism, it seems to me, is a very Orphic religion; both are based on the concept of there being a perfect, more real 'Platonic' realm from which this world appears to us because of our 'sin' or 'obscurations' or bad habits of desire...

Both philosophies place an emphasis on an intellectual change as essential for liberation and both systems promise enlightenment after death.

Whilst the Buddhists place the source of our entrapment on ignorance, a state that can be improved upon within one's life time, the Orphics saw themselves as trapped by the nature of their bodies, no one could be free of their Titanic nature.

But as for the Buddhists, with their belief that all living beings have the potential to be a 'god', a Buddha; so the Orphics likewise believed that we are all part god, part Dionysus.

Death alone offered a chance for the Orphics to be free of the Titan within the flesh. But knowledge of what to do in the underworld was essential (rather like the Egyptian 'Book of Gates' there were signs and passwords that had to be recited or else you would be lost with the masses and never get to the Elysian Fields.).

The curious phrase: 'a kid I fell into the milk' is often read on the gold tablets buried with the dead.

There are similar notions in the Vajrayana schools of Buddhism  which explain how the moment of death may be used as an opportunity to achieve liberation. But this is physical, rather than metaphorical and is to do with the configuration of energy channels within ones body actually changing in the process of death: of  'winds' and 'drops': dza, lhung and tigle.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead describes the visions the consciousness -read soul or psyche- will experience whilst within this bardo- the space between death and re-birth -and tells the practitioner how to 'escape' rebirth by recognising the true nature of the experience as (metaphor of the mirror) a projection.

The Hinayana schools are closer, in this case, to the Orphic religion. Both regard the body as something of an impure hindrance. Desire is the Buddhist 'sin' because it is the cause of all bad behavior, including re-birth. So along with meditation to 'purify' the mind, other practices proscribed for a Hinayana practitioner are centered upon 'transforming desire to wisdom by subduing the body's coarse desires'. Fasting, eating only once a day and eating only what one is given are ways to teach the body that desire is unnecessary to support life and meditation.

A shaved head, robes, celibacy are not so much a rejection of the world, simply a way to ignore it's voice as one ignores the wondering thoughts that cross the mind during meditation.

Understanding the 'emptyness' of desire leads to wisdom and as wisdom is the opposite to ignorance it would be understood by the Orphics as a part of the remedy for the inner Titan. When desire is extinguished for the Buddhists, there is (as for the Orphic) liberation after death.

Original sin, be it a Buddhist concept of ignorance, or a more modern 'green' sense of disgust at the greed of the petrol-heads, bankers and capitalists,  is a very Orphic feeling:
The ancient grief of Persephone, according to one arguement, is sorrow for the death of her son Dionysos at the hands of the Titans. Humans pay the punishment because they were formed from the Titan’s ashes and have a Titanic nature. By living an Orphic life and avoiding the bloodshedding which is the legacy of the Titans, humans may pay the penalty and achieve freedom.
In Vajrayana Buddhism purification is achieved through practice: fasting, visulisations of oneself as an emanation of a deity, prayer and discipline- refraining from doing harm where possible, and by complex intellectual arguments that convince one of the non-existence of the self. Ultimately the Buddhist Mahayana and Vajrayana paradigm is that this world is an illusion caused by one's own ignorance and therefore enlightenment for one, becomes in a massively solipsistic way, the enlightenment of all.

The 'original sin' of previous bad karma and desire -which creates bad karma- is analogous to the ash from the Titans, or the 'Original sin' of eating the apple. The Karma Kadgyu also, like the Orphics use the symbol of being dressed in a white cloth (not wool!) as a sign of relisation  'repa clad' but I'd love to know if I'm right to beleive that this along with it being disrespectful to blow out candles (must waft them out with your hand!) and the way that Mahakala looks so much like Zervan...confirms the Zoroastrean roots of both Orphic religion and aspects of Tibetan ritual.

Tibetan Buddhism spins away from the central Orphic purity concept and off into Taoism via alchemy with a sprinkling of Hindu deities and a lot of Bon spirits and symbols.

But, back to the subject.

The Orphic version of the Persephone myth as told by Clement of Alexandria (in which Zeus and Persephone are the parents of Dionysus, and the baby Dionysus is murdered by the Titans) is a strange mixture of themes, the requirement for a gods blood to animate clay comes from an old Mesopotamian myth. Humans were made, so the Mesopotamians beleived, to work for the gods: to grow food for the temple.

I haven't read anywhere yet why the ash of Dionysus and the Titans became human...

Using Tibetan Buddhism as a key to understand Eleusis, is not scientific in any way and I can't really justify anything that I've written, and will write, on this page. But my way of understanding Eleusis is to see it as an empowerment (as Buddhists call them); a ritual that confers on one *just by being there* a link with the deity.

In Tibetan Buddhism an empowerment is permission to practice, in other words, it is a stepping through a wall that exists between the real and the imaginative and into faith. As at Eleusis, what happens in an empowerment is secret, but it too consists of things said, things heard and things seen...

At Eleusis, in the Initiation Hall there are: things done- dromena- which was probably a reenactment of the Persephone myth; there were things shown-deiknumena- the sacred objects displayed (probably by the priest); and finally the things said -legomena- commentaries that accompanied the 'things shown'.

All this was apporheta -unrepeatable; the penalty for divulging them was death.

I have a mental block when it comes to thinking about 'Orphic' versions of the universe. I feel much more at home with the Mesopotamian- Sumerian/ Akkadian-  Homeric version: gods up on the mountain somewhere, all they want is the smell of meat and libations of wine, they are egotistical, manic, powerful! The universe was made for no good reason, we live, we die. The best we can hope for is to live a good life here and for people to remember us and tend our graves. There is no redemption, no need for redemption. No sin, no Titanic blood to be free of. The Underworld can be a dusty and miserably place, and the dead seem to fall apart after a while down there unless they are 'fed' by offerings from above, but then again it may be quite pleasant for those whose families remember them.

Cremation is considered a bad idea, the human spirit ascending to the realm of the gods would be out of his depth, like a monkey going to university..

The Orphic universe is a place of emanations and there is nothing simple or prosaic about Orphic ideas.

Take that mirror, the one used to divert the baby Dionysus, to hold his fascination long enough for the Titans to get close enough to reach out and...

The mirror is a Buddhist metaphor for the way this life appears, an illusion, ephemeral, a reflection in the mind. The NeoPlatonist Proclus Lycaeus (C4 A.D) sees in this metaphor of  the mirror, the opposition of eternal (god like) truth and ephemeral (real life) birth and decay. For the Buddhists, the capacity of the mind to reflect  (conciousness) is in opposition to what it reflects, the everyday, composite stuff of this world. When Dionysus is looking into the mirror the NeoPlatonist sees an image of mankind, the dichotomy between our false mirror-like Titanic nature, and the eternal god we could be.

But the point, for the followers of Orpheus was to live a good life, and to study. The theogony that eventually becomes Neoplatonism is necasarily hard to understand.

Necessary, because it has to be like a Zen koan.

Paradigm shifts are required...enlightenment cannot be easy!

Musaios wrote: 'Everything comes to be out of One and resolved into One'.

In the Buddhist version of this we have the Dharmakaya, Nirmanakaya and Sambogakaya. The Dharmakaya is 'The One' out of which all Buddhas and all phenomenon arise and to which they return after their dissolution. The Nirmanakaya is physical manifestation: the dimension of ceaseless manifestation...and Sambogakaya?  'The luminous form of clear light...' It is the realm of 'the lights without end' ...the formless realm.

See, enlightenment has to be difficult to understand, can't just be Babylonian about being respectfiul of the gods and taking care of your family.

The theogonies of the Orphics are difficult to follow, we have Phanes as the creator and Zeus as his creation, we have worlds and gods swallowed and the first world becomes the Dharmakaya of pure realms of Platonic ideas and the world of Zeus, the Nirmanakaya of emanations, of things, of sense....

Persephone is in here, in this Orphic theogony, but this is enough for now!

Anyone who wishes to get to grips, I'd recommend reading Orpheus and Greek Religion by W.K.C Guthrie.