Egyptian Philosophy I — Karma and Ma’at Morals
There are a few misconceptions about the Ancient Egypt in our mainstream portray of that civilization. In time, I will try to address the facts that the pyramids were not tombstones for the pharaohs, that the ancient people did not worship the Sun literally and, as shockingly as it may seem, they were not truly polytheists in the way you imagine.
But firstly, it is important to understand that in Egyptian society the spirituality was part of everyday life. Pretty much every aspect of this civilization was embedded on spiritual notions. If for some other civilizations the religious practices and rituals were channels to achieve moral truths, in Egypt, the religion was so developed and adopted that it was the origin of the moral standards followed by the society. There was simple no strict separation between the divine and the human.
Many of the moral and spiritual teachings were registered by pharaohs and high priests for their successors. Those lessons promoted the ethical and honoring truths the leaders should observe when ruling but, at the same time, were enforceable to every member of the Egyptian piramidal society. Those concepts of truth, balance, order, harmony, law, morality and justice were called Ma’at ( mˤ3t). Surviving works include the Maxims of Ptahhotep, the Instructions of Kagemni, the Wisdom of Imhotep, the Hordjedef Teachings and many others.
The Egypt organized itself on familiar nucleus that were microcosms of the society, in the sense that the Father was the moral authority of the family as much as the Pharaoh was to society. Marriages were supposed to happen based on mutual happiness and were seen as an important source of self-realization. The children were expected to follow the Ma’at standards strictly to preserve the harmony between brothers and sisters. Additionally, there was a widespread notion that true friends, elected through affinity and compromise, were part of the familiar nucleus.
Long before Christ, the Egyptian Society valued social solidarity as a natural law. Every free man was seen as receiver of divine grace and, therefore, had moral obligations to express its gratitudes to the divine. If the spirituality provided food, it was unwise to fill satiate yourself without thinking about others’ hunger.
The writings of Onchsheshonqy expressed the notion of karma to express the necessity of nonviolence and charity: “Thou shallt not inflict damage to a person for that person to not do the same to thyself. Thou shallt not sow fear among people for God to not sow fear in thyself. Because if someone promotes violence to prosper in life, God will take the bread out of your mouth”.
The obedience of that divine Law was fundamental for the stability of the pyramidal social structure in which the Pharaoh’s orders were followed throughout the society. Searching for peace, justice and harmony was the main objective of the government and the perception of justice as great, invariable, secure and stable permitted the harmony of the society.
Self-observation and moral courtesy were main virtues to an honest man thus leaders as Ptahhotep indulged in self-knowledge practices constantly. According to Amenompe’s writings on Ethics and Morality, the “serene way of speaking”, the “moderation of vivacity” and the “seriousness of the feature” were behavioral standards for that honest man. The search for those characteristics underlined the notion that the affable man could lead through all obstacles.
Every person had its role on the pyramidal society related to the work performed. Onchsheshonqy registered the conception that loving your craft was the key to self-realization, which corresponds to the creed that every profession followed divine purposes for the collective. Work was a way to produce richness but also a mean to approximate people to the spirituality.
Authors infer a relation of the decadence of those spiritual teachings and the moral standards of the society with the decadence of Egypt’s political predominance on Ancient History. When falters the creed of the Pharaoh as the divine leader of the society (a representative of gods), the religious cult becomes too formal and empty of its meaning. When the self-interest becomes more important than the collective good, the search for power as an end replaces the spiritual search for development. Considerable changes in society were noticeable with the expansion of Greek and Roman presence of the Nile, a process that was catalyzed with Alexander the Great’s conquest of Egypt.
The high priest Neferti sung the decadence of the Ancient Egypt:
“Men will seize weapons of warfare,
The land will live in uproar.
Men will make arrows of copper,
Will crave blood for bread,
Will laugh aloud at distress.
None will weep over death,
None will wake fasting for death,
Each man’s heart is for himself.
Mourning is not done today,
Hearts have quite abandoned it.
A man sits with his back turned,
While one slays another.
I show you the son as enemy, the brother as foe,
A man slaying his father”.
This text is based on New Acropolis’ School of Philosophy material.