We go exclusively to the West. Just as when we read the Vedas we were exclusively in the East. We do not know yet the beginnings of human thought, even where the man appeared first in the world is not yet definitely known, there are speculations. Similarly what were exactly the first stirrings of human thought, what they thought about is not yet known except that the earliest records are the Vedas and the first evidence as to what man thought first is to be found in the Veda. In the West how far the Greek civilisation was away from the Vedic civilisation in historical terms is still difficult to determine. But it is certain that one of the first thinkers of the West known to us is called Thales. He is supposed to have been around the 7th century BC.
Now it is agreed that Rig Veda was at least 1500 BC. It may be much older according to many other thinkers but 1500 BC is the most conservative date for the Rig Veda. That means that the Vedic thought was earlier than the earliest Greek thinker − Thales. But it does not mean that before Thales there was no thought, no tradition, in fact there was one big tradition in ancient Greece related to Orpheus. He was supposed to be a very spiritual personality and he had a great influence in determining the Greek religion. There is a tradition called Orphic tradition. The entire Orphic tradition is called the tradition of mysteries. And the Vedic tradition is also called the tradition of mysteries, – Vedic mysteries and Orphic mysteries. There are many similarities between the two traditions but decidedly even Orphic mysteries are supposed to be later than the Vedic. These are a few facts that I am giving you so that in the mind there is some chronological idea. I do not wish to burden you with many controversies, what was earlier, what was later and so many other details that is not relevant for us just now. That there are some similarities between the Vedic mysteries and Orphic mysteries is now acknowledged, accepted, although which were earlier is not exactly determined. After Thales a few more thinkers in ancient Greece, who belong to what is called Milesian School – Milesian School of philosophy. There came a great philosopher who is very well known called Pythagoras. We know Pythagoras because we all learn geometry and we have got Pythagorean Theorem. In India we also had a theorem corresponding to Pythagorean Theorem in what is called Shulba Sutra that is an ancient school of mathematics in India which was prior to Pythagoras. This is an established fact, acknowledged now everywhere that what is called Pythagorean Theorem was not the original theorem of Pythagoras because the same theorem was known in the Shulba Sutra, which is much earlier than Pythagoras.
As a part of a general knowledge you can ask your Professor of mathematics to tell you Pythagorean Theorem and it will add to the richness of your knowledge of the Greeks, at least this much, you should have accurate knowledge of the Pythagorean Theorem. It concerns the right angled triangle and tells you the measurement of the three lines of a triangle, if the triangle is right angled triangle.
Pythagoras however is respected in the West not only as a mathematician but as a great religious leader. He had his own school of religion, – Pythagorean Religion, which had a great origin in Orpheus, in the Orphic tradition. Pythagoras is also to be known because he influenced Plato a great deal. We shall come to Plato in due course but because Plato is the greatest philosopher of the West and without Plato you cannot understand the West at all. If you want to understand the Western culture one thing that you should know best is Plato and since Plato was influenced by Pythagoras, the importance of Pythagoras is very great.We shall come to this later on when we come to Plato himself and ask what are the important points in Pythagoras which influenced Plato so much?
Another great philosopher was Heraclitus. One day when you have done good deal of Socrates, Plato and many other Western thinkers, we shall visit Heraclitus also. You might know that Sri Aurobindo himself wrote one book on Heraclitus, so that makes a good reading on Heraclitus and a greater illumination on Heraclitus and the entire Greek thought. Another great thinker of these times was Parmenides. Perhaps you might have forgotten his name but if you remember or if you try to remember, I spoke of Parmenides several months ago and since I had spoken about him I shall speak about him again so that a very important argument that he had developed which remains even uptil today extremely powerful, it’s even today used in one form or the other. I don’t know if you can recall it but I shall read out to you once again that argument. That argument relates to the Reality of being, the reality of the permanent, the Reality which is forever what it is. It’s an argument to show that the world is that is often used refers to the permanent reality that reality is permanent and is permanent must be permanent is demonstrated by him in the form of an argument. So let me read out once again what I read out much earlier several months ago, I’ll read out to you once again. “Thou canst not know what is not that is impossible – nor utter it; for it is the same thing that can thought and that can be.” A very short sentence, it’s like a bullet which has remained as a powerful statement, only two sentences which have not been rubbed out. I shall repeat and you can write it down once again “Thou cants' not know what is not − that is impossible − nor utter it; for it is the same thing that can be thought and that can be." I shall repeat. Then you write down the second sentence which he repeats in another way. "The thing that can be thought and that for the sake of which the thought exists is the same; for you cannot find thought without something that is, as to which it is uttered. I shall repeat. The thing that can be thought and that for the sake of which the thought exists is the same; for you cannot find thought without something that is, as to which it is uttered." I am making you write this whole thing because of the fact that if you can master these four or five lines, you have mastered one of the most important arguments in philosophy. You can be a philosopher; this is one of the arguments which has remained alive throughout up to the present day. Many people have tried to reject it, discuss it, to disprove it but it comes back again and again and again. Even in the philosophy of Plato this is the starting point and since we are going to concentrate on Plato a great deal, it is good to know this particular argument. I shall not explain it now; I leave it to you to think over it again and again and again, until you ask me the question about it. If you don’t ask me the question it will remain as it is.