Sunday, June 12, 2011

How does Heehs conclude that Sri Aurobindo was a stoic?

McEvilley is definitely worth reading. He devotes a chapter to some peculiar parallels between the Greek Stoic school and Hinduism. Many of the Stoic scriptures were lost, but based on the extant manuscripts, it seems the Stoic averred the cyclic creation and destruction of the cosmos, the pneuma (i.e. conscious-force) which dwells in plants, animals and man, the interpenetration of the soul with the body, our existence after death, etc.
I plan to write a post on the Stoic-Hinduism parallels someday soon.

Finally, Sri Aurobindo’s “own stoicism, partly innate and partly learned from philosophers such as Epictetus, would have helped him to keep his sexual tendencies in check.” I reproduce below the document which Heehs has based himself upon to show the reader how he decontextualises his sources:

Sri Aurobindo’s intellect was influenced by Greek philosophy.
Very little. I read more than once Plato’s Republic and Symposium, but only extracts from his other writings. It is true that under his impress I rashly started writing at the age of 18 an explanation of the cosmos on the foundation of the principle of Beauty and Harmony, but I never got beyond the first three or four chapters. I read Epictetus and was interested in the ideas of the Stoics and the Epicureans; but I made no study of Greek philosophy or of any of the [? ]. (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Autobiographical Notes, p 112)

Sri Aurobindo’s note begins with “Very little” in answer to the biographer’s statement on him being influenced by Greek philosophy. If Sri Aurobindo goes on to say that he read Epictetus and was interested in the ideas of the Stoics, it certainly does not mean a denial of his opening answer or that he was indeed influenced by Epictetus and the Stoics. How does Heehs then conclude that Sri Aurobindo’s stoicism was “partly learned from philosophers such as Epictetus”? How does he at all conclude that Sri Aurobindo was a stoic? By the fact that he took up Yoga which requires self-control? If that is the case, then we can conclude that only stoics take up Yoga!

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