Pythagoras was a Greek philosopher who was responsible for important developments in the history of mathematics, astronomy, and the theory of music. He founded the Pythagorean Brotherhood and formulated principles that influenced the thoughts of Plato and Aristotle. The influence of Pythagoras is so widespread, and coupled with the fact that no writings of Pythagoras exist today, this short article will attempt to guide the reader through the life of this most remarkable teacher.
He traveled widely in his youth with his father Mnesarchus, who was a gem merchant from Tyre. His family settled in the homeland of his mother, Pythais, on the island of Samos, where he studied with the philosopher Pherekydes. He was introduced to mathematical ideas and astronomy by Thales, and his pupil Anaximander in Miletus when he was between 18 and 20 years old. Thales advised Pythagoras to travel to Egypt to learn more of these subjects. Leaving Miletus, Pythagoras went first to Sidon, where he was initiated into the mysteries of Tyre and Byblos. It is claimed that Pythagoras went onto Egypt with a letter of introduction written by Polycrates, making the journey with some Egyptian sailors who believed that a god had taken passage on their ship. Arriving in Egypt, Pythagoras tried to gain entry into the Mystery Schools of that country. He applied again and again, but he was told that unless he goes through a particular training of fasting and breathing, he cannot be allowed to enter the school. Pythagoras is reported to have said, ” I have come for knowledge, not any sort of discipline.” But the school authorities said,” we cannot give you knowledge unless you are different. And really, we are not interested in knowledge at all, we are interested in actual experience. No knowledge is knowledge unless it is lived and experienced. So you will have to go on a 40 day fast, continuously breathing in a certain manner, with a certain awareness on certain points.” After 40 days of fasting and breathing, aware, attentive, he was allowed to enter the school at Diospolis. It is said that Pythagoras said,”You are not allowing Pythagoras in. I am a different man, I am reborn. You were right and I was wrong, because then my whole standpoint was intellectual. Through this purification, my center of being has changed. Before this training I could only understand through the intellect, through the head. Now I can feel. Now truth is not a concept to me, but a life.”
He spent the next 22 years perfecting himself in mathematics, astronomy, music, and was initiated into the Egyptian Mysteries. When Cambyses II, the king of Persia invaded Egypt in 525BC, he made Pythagoras his prisoner and sent him to Babylon. He utilized this misfortune as an opportunity for growth, and for the next 12 years he studied with the Magi and was initiated into the Chaldean Mysteries. Leaving Babylon, he made his way through Persia to India, where he continued his education under the Brachmanes. At that time India was still feeling the effects of the spiritual revival brought about by Gautama the Buddha. Although Pythagoras arrived in India too late to come into personal contact with the Buddha, he was greatly influenced by his teachings. He went to India a student, he left it as a teacher, and even to this day he is known in that country as Pitar Guru, and as Yavanacharya, the Ionian Teacher.