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  • Olivier Du Roi

Mother Tradition and Eonian Tradition: Pythagoras, chapter II - The Examination of consciousness

How is the Order of the Lily and the Eagle connected to the Pythagorean tradition?


The daily examination of consciousness

The examination of consciousness is a spiritual exercise, often religious, very present in the Christian tradition, but which finds its roots in ancient Greece, and particularly in Pythagoreanism. Why, despite everything, begin our study with a practice that does not seem to be the most emblematic of the Pythagorean tradition? This tradition is often associated with the mathematical sciences, with the notion of harmony or even with the “Music of the Spheres,” but less with this idea of ​​a daily turning within oneself to self-analyze and correct what should be corrected. However, it is indeed a deliberate choice on our part to start our study with this somewhat unexpected examination of consciousness.

  • First, because we use this exercise within the Order of the Lily and the Eagle as one of our own practices.

  • Second, because it alone symbolizes the eminently active initiation in which the theoretical Teachings are not an end in themselves, but a succession of keys and benchmarks for concrete application in daily life.

  • Finally, because this practice contains within it the idea and the hope that the adept, guided by the Teachings received, can evolve positively and finally improve by the effort of his own will. And this is the whole point of the so-called evolutionary initiation practiced within the Order of the Lily and the Eagle: to allow each initiate to progress in knowledge and self-mastery, and, in doing so, to positively affect the people he meets by the very example of his life.

The daily examination of consciousness therefore implies that every man and every woman can improve, and this is an important goal of their life. They can be guided in this by the keys that are given throughout the initiatory journey; they can also be helped by the exchange with other followers walking on the same path - and this is the whole point of working in a group, in a community. But, in the end, they remain alone with themselves and must succeed by the effort of their own will. This message of possible and achievable progress is already, in itself, an optimistic wager on the human condition. How many times have we all heard it said: “I am like that; you have to take me as I am!” “You can’t really change yourself!” “Drive out the natural, it comes back at a gallop!”

But in the end, what do we see around us if not nature in perpetual evolution and constant adaptation to its environment? Life science and earth science, as well as the history of humanity, clearly show how living species have changed over the ages and continue to adapt to their environment. They also teach how Man has gradually refined his mores and changed his ways of thinking. Life is movement, and we can imagine that in the very long term, it tends towards more unity and perfection. It is, in any case, the foundation of the Evolutionist Initiation which asks the followers of this path to engage in a transformation - from above. It is not a question of betraying oneself or changing one's own identity, but quite simply of getting to know oneself, of acting in full awareness in order to improve oneself, to enhance one's qualities and to control one's thought.

Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1) explains in his discourse On Happiness that, on the one hand, "Historically, Life is a raising of Consciousness," and, on the other hand, there are three different attitudes towards it, and therefore three types of individuals.

The first category is the type of individual who is tired, or pessimistic, for whom it is a goal, achieved as cleverly as possible, of leaving the game, of letting go, of avoiding any risk, of remaining calm, of not making efforts, and of retreating according to the famous motto, "To live happily, well hidden.” This is what Teilhard calls, “The happiness of tranquility.”

The second category of individual Teilhard describes are the bon vivants, the pleasure-seekers. Happiness here comes down to selfishly enjoying every present moment, enjoying life's pleasures to the fullest, jealously, greedily, without losing a single crumb. Teilhard (1) calls it “The happiness of pleasure.” He states that, for these people, “The purpose of life is not to act and create, but to enjoy. So, any effort, even the least effort necessary, ruins the fun. Relax as much as possible, and, like a leaf turning toward the rays of the sun, make it your goal at every moment to feel good: this is the recipe for happiness.”

The third and last category of individuals of which Teilhard speaks are the ardent, those who have faith in the future and in their potential, those for whom life is "an ascension and a discovery," those for whom it is important to "become more." He evokes it under the name of “The happiness of growth,” or “happiness of development.” And Teilhard explains, “No change beatifies unless it takes place upwards. The happy man is therefore the one who, without directly seeking happiness, inevitably finds joy; in addition, by the act of reaching for self-realization, he finds himself in the end, elevated''

An obvious parallel emerges between this third category of people, the ardent, on the one hand, and the initiate on the other, who aspires to more Wisdom and Love, and who walks towards more perfection and consciousness. Confident, serene, he believes in his own potential for change and is fully committed to working on himself. The examination of conscience is for him a tool on which he relies daily for his project of development. And this method works! It requires regularity and diligence, but it always succeeds, provided it is conducted with sincerity.

We believe that we are not mistaken in seeing in the Deming Wheel (2) as a profane transposition of our examination of conscience, applied to the world of organizations and businesses. It is a fact that initiatory truths infuse little by little into society, spread, sometimes transform, and often adapt to the era and customs, but they always find a concrete utility. Thus, we see in the effectiveness of our examination of consciousness a reason for its possible transposition, certainly unconscious, into the business world, where the need for results prevails over any other concern. During the 20th century, quality management systems became widespread in organizations and companies in order to control the processes, the quality of the services rendered, or the products manufactured. A well-known quality system process is illustrated by the PDCA method which is translated graphically by the Deming Wheel.

This method aims for the continuous improvement of organizations in four stages:

1. Plan: Prepare, Plan what you want to achieve. Establish objectives, define the tasks to be performed.

2. Do: Develop, carry out, implement the planned tasks.

3. Check: Check, check the results. Measure and compare with forecasts.

4. Act: Act, correct, make the necessary decisions.

The green arrow should say "Improvement" the brown square should be "Quality System"

Our purpose is not to go further in explaining the PDCA method, but just to imagine this possible parallel with the four stages of our daily examination of conscience:

1. Visualize, mentally design an image of what we desire to improve in ourselves. This phase, the first stage of our exercise, constitutes the base, the essential element of our approach. How do I improve myself? What meaning, what direction do I want to give to my life? When I imagine myself better, what changes do I see taking place in me? Do I see myself more honest, more courageous, more loving, less demanding, less selfish? Obviously, it’s not a question of trying to reach all these goals at once, but of concentrating on intermediate objectives, small steps, achievable aims; too much ambition would quickly bring about discouragement and failure. Then, we encounter our first difficulty, that of knowing what is good or bad for us and for others. We do not propose to open a vast debate here, but this is an essential question to which the Eonian Tradition provides many answers. It provides many keys for understanding which will help the initiate to re-orient himself. To see a general picture, we can recall what Demetrius Plato Semelas, co-founder of the Order of the Lily and the Eagle, said: “All that unites is Good.” This thought gives us a way of re-orienting ourselves by paying attention not to create discord ourselves, and not to divide or separate people by our words or our actions, but, on the contrary, to work for peace and reconciliation. This is an aim that can easily be set, implemented, and verified. But we could choose simpler projects, or even more concrete ones. For example, an advice that Master Philippe de Lyon very often gave (3): "Never speak ill of someone in their absence." Try this, and you will see that it is not so easy. More prosaically, your aim could be to remove certain mechanical habits, tics, outbursts of humor, or simply to smile more, or to no longer react under the influence of anger . . . . Consider everything that contributes to growing, to positively moving yourself upwards.

2. Live our day paying attention to putting to work, applying the goals visualized the night before. This requires an important presence within oneself during the course of the day, so we do not forget the recommendations we made to ourselves.

3. In the evening, our examination of conscience takes place in two very distinct stages: first, reviewing the thread of the past day and objectively analyzing the deviations from the target; and second, to mentally visualize again our aim for the next day, to conceive it very clearly.

4. Adjust your practice until you reach the goal sustainably, before setting yourself a slightly more ambitious one, and so on. It is an endless effort towards greater perfection, continuous improvement.

But back to Pythagoras. Jean-François Mattei (4) reveals to us how this examination was practiced within the community: "The life of the members was subject to meticulous regulations: raised with the star of Apollo, the Pythagorean remembered his acts of the previous day in their exact order and pondered the work of the day to come."

"The Pythagorean Hymn to the Rising Sun", 1869, by Fyodor Bronnikov

The method highlights a number of elements that we believe are essential to develop here:

  • Each day represents analogically, in itself, a small life. We will return later to the importance of analogies or meditations for the Pythagoreans, but we can already emphasize here the obvious relationship that appears between a day (marked by morning, noon, evening), and a whole life (punctuated by youth, maturity, and old age). This parallel between a day and a whole of life, based on the ternary rhythm of the beginning, the middle, and the end, refers to the concept of the Triad, dear to the Pythagoreans. There is, for example, an old Orphic formula that Plato takes up in The Laws, concerning the Divinity who “holds in his hands the beginning, the middle and the end” (715e). Each night symbolically corresponds to a small death and each morning to a new birth. A day represents a life in miniature. We know that there are “worse” days and “better” days, and that life is not linear and takes care sometimes of carrying us up, sometimes of bringing us down. But a daily repeated effort nevertheless allows the initiate to exteriorize himself in a continuity of coherent action. Little by little, day after day, he ends up tracing a deep furrow which forms a large coherent act, a sensitive and consistent manifestation of his thought which translates into the overall act of his life.

  • This exercise requires total objectivity from the initiate and asks him to expose himself in order to analyze and judge himself without artifice or concession. In her book “La Source grecque” Simone Weil (5) links this image of nudity and judgment to death; and we have actually seen that the night which plunges us into unconsciousness can be compared to a small death. She adds: “Plato does not say, but he implies that to make oneself just, which requires self-knowledge, one must become naked and dead from this life.” The examination of conscience requires this breaking of all the attachments which constitute our reasons for living. And this seemingly innocuous exercise of the examination of conscience thus obliges the initiate to present himself every evening completely naked, stripped of his material attachments, to the exercise of his conscience. It is obvious that the initiatory process which consists in getting rid of material attachments and in dying to one's ego, here completely joins the thought of Plato who says in the Phaedo (64 a-67 d.): "Those who attach themselves like it befits the search for wisdom do not exert themselves in anything other than dying and being dead... Death is nothing other than the fact that the soul is separated from the body... If we want to know anything in a pure way, we must separate ourselves from the body and contemplate things with the soul itself”. And Simone Weil goes on to explain, “This double image of nudity and death as a symbol of spiritual salvation comes from the traditions of these secret cults that the ancients called the “mysteries.” It refers to many images, often identical, through the ages and traditions: that of the Babylonian goddess Ishtar who, in the myth of her descent into Hades, must pass through seven gates and strip herself as she goes, to finish completely naked in front of the Queen of the Underworld. Or in the Christian tradition where we can see a similar symbol in the destitution of a Saint John of the Cross or a Saint Francis of Assisi.

  • Another idea that we read implicitly through this examination of conscience is something both obvious and very important: in the evening, during the examination, we are in turn projected either into the past to unfold the thread of the past day and analyze what happened, or in the future to prepare for the day to come. The rest of the time during the day, the initiate strives to live in the present, focused as he is on achieving his goals. Living fully in the present moment, not getting lost in the past, which is no more, or in the future which is not yet, is a fundamental principle of ancient Greek thought. But we find it globally in all sound philosophy, for example in the exercises of Buddhist mindfulness which require one to live very deeply each passing moment, in Krisnamurti (6) who exhorts his listeners to be very serious, that is to say, to a total presence in any situation, to a sustained observation, to an extreme attention in all places and at all times, in Anthony de Mello (7) who asks, in his “Call to Love,” to look, to observe, to question, to explore in order to awaken his mind because, as he says, "How could you pretend that you are alive if you are not even aware of your own thoughts and reactions? An unconscious life, it is said, is not worth living. It cannot even be called life; it is a mechanical existence, a robot existence, sleep, loss of consciousness, death; and yet this is what some people call human life!" We also find this idea in the poet René Char (8) who writes: “If you can establish yourself in this moment, you will discover eternity.”

To settle in this moment, to live intensely each moment in full consciousness, what a challenge! Try this evening, before going to bed, to review in your head the chronological entirety of your day, as the Pythagoreans did (“The acts of the previous day in their exact order,” Jean-François Mattei told us): each fact, each gesture, each thought, each emotion, each sequence . . . . You will inevitably encounter many hesitations, voids, and holes which undoubtedly testify to moments of inattention, mechanical habits and therefore a lack of self-presence, and finally a certain unconsciousness and oblivion! And this (forgetting versus remembering) is of paramount importance for the Pythagoreans and more generally for the mentality of ancient Greece. We will come back to this very extensively in our next chapter, which we will devote to the immortality of the soul and to reincarnation.

To be continued . . . .

Olivier Du Roi – May 2021

1. Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, born in 1881 in Orcines (France) and died in 1955 in New York, was a French Jesuit priest, researcher, paleontologist, theologian, and philosopher.

2. The Deming Wheel is a graphical transposition of the PDCA quality management method. If the paternity of this method goes to Walter A. Shewart, it was the statistician William Edwards Deming who made it known to Japanese industrialists in the 1950s.

3. Master Philippe de Lyon, (1849 – 1905) is a French mystic and thaumaturge.

4. Jean-François Mattéi, (1941-2014), was a professor of Greek philosophy and political philosophy. He taught at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis and was one of the architects of the Philosophical Encyclopedia (PUF).

5. Simone Weil is a humanist philosopher born in Paris in 1909 and died in Ashford in 1943.

6. Jiddu Krishnamurti (1895 – 1986) is an Indian thinker promoting alternative education.

7. Anthony de Mello, born in 1931 in Bombay and died in 1987 in New York, is an Indian Jesuit priest, spiritual guide and psychotherapist, known for his popular works of spirituality.

8. René Char (1907-1988) is a French poet.

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