Pythagoras and his disciples established religious communities throughout the Greek world. All were strict vegetarians. Men and women were admitted equally, they took vows of celibacy and all possessions were held in common. Neophytes took a 5-year vow of silence.
Vegetarianism and Spiritual Life First of a Series
The great majority of us who have any knowledge of Pythagoras obtained it in high school geometry when we learned the Pythagorean Theorem-“The square on the hypotenuse of a right triangle is equal to the sum of the squares on the other two sides.” But, you may ask (if you haven’t blotted the whole experience of high school geometry out of your consciousness) what have some old Greek with his triangles and squares got to do with vegetarianism? Or spiritual life?
Quite a bit. In fact, Pythagoras was not only one of the greatest mathematicians of all time, but one of the greatest and most influential philosophers the world has ever known. And, not surprisingly, he was a strict vegetarian who would only accept students who agreed to abandon flesh eating just as he had. Furthermore, his mathematics were integrated with a deeply spiritual understanding of reality which has influenced seekers of the truth from five centuries before the beginning of Christianity down to the present day.
Pythagoras and his disciples established religious communities throughout the Greek world. All were strict vegetarians. Men and women were admitted equally, they took vows of celibacy and all possessions were held in common. Neophytes took a 5-year vow of silence. They rose before dawn and worshipped the rising sun as the “eye” of the Supreme Spiritual Lord who is the source of all energy and life. They spent the day in philosophical study and religious observances, then finished their day by reading scriptures at a communal (and meatless) evening meal. All wore white robes. Pythagoras himself wore both white robes and a golden coronet. He was reputed to have worked many miracles of healing, including reviving several dead people. He was said to be the son of a god, Apollo, and born of a mortal mother, who was called “Parthenesis”, which means virgin.
Most scholars believe that he obtained most of his mystical knowledge in Egypt, but recent scholarship has traced his travels through India as well. There is supporting evidence for this in the Vedic literature of India which mentions him as a great empowered guru called Yavana Acharya, which means “Spiritual Master for the Meat Eaters” (Yavanas–as the Greeks were known to the ancient vegetarian residents of India).
Like another great vegetarian miracle worker, Jesus Christ, Pythagoras is strangely associated with fish. Now scholars have compared two stories told about these two mystics and concluded that neither are about real fish, but compose an allegorical code to explain a deep mathematical and mystical relationship. The Pythagoreans had a diagram of 2 intersecting circles, one above, one below, with the circumference of one touching the center of the other. The 2 circles represented the spiritual and the material domains. The “transcendental” region where the circles intersect resembles a fish shape-exactly as used as the symbol for Christianity. The Pythagoreans called this shape vesica piscis. The ratio of the height of this fish symbol to its length is 153:265, which is the nearest whole number to the square root of 3 and the controlling ratio of the equilateral triangle. OK, OK, you didn’t really think you could learn about Pythagoras without plowing through some math, did you? Anyway, remember that first number-153.
Now the stories of both Pythagoras and Jesus have them telling fishermen-who have failed to catch any fish all day-to cast their nets again. Miraculously, their nets come in full of fish. Pythagoras was said to have correctly predicted the exact number of fish caught. In his story, the mystic number is not revealed, but in the Gospel story of Jesus the number of fish caught is given-exactly 153! Also, in the story of Jesus’ feeding the multitudes with “loaves and fishes”, Christ is quoted as trying to explain to his disciples the importance of the numbers of loaves, fishes, baskets of leftovers, numbers of people fed, etc. The idea is that these stories are not about a fish eating at all but about mathematical relationships and mystical numbers that reveal, to the initiated, hidden truths about the relationship of the spiritual and material dimensions. Vegetarians may now rejoice!
As a last insight into the mind of our ancient vegetarian poet, musician, healer and philosopher, we will quote from Justin Martyr, a Christian writing around eight centuries after Pythagoras ascended into the upper circle. He attributes to our Master Mathematician the following quote:
“God is One; and He Himself does not, as some suppose, exist outside the world, but in it, He being wholly present in the entire circle, and beholding all generations, being the regulating ingredient of all the ages, and the administrator of His own power and works, the first principle of all things, the light of heaven, and Father of all, the intelligence and animating soul of the universe, the movement of all orbits.”
Most scholars believe that he obtained most of his mystical knowledge in Egypt, but recent scholarship has traced his travels through India as well.