What is Love? Love is not about valuing an object that you want to have/own or already have/own and want to continue having/owning. That is craving, lust, possession. That kind of “love” is directed towards an object and so is inherently objectifying. It objectifies the object “loved” whether that object is a machine, animal, a home or a human. No one wants to be objectified. We don’t respond to objectification with warm and fuzzy feelings. We feel cheated and even insulted.
Real love involves generosity, patience, discipline and is at first painful and difficult to enter into and only after some time is rewarding/releasing/liberating. Real love liberates the object or person loved, through wishing it well and giving it independence and freedom. It is not possessive.
1. ROLE OF PHILOSOPHER
ROLE OF PHILOSOPHER
“leading them unwittingly, from childhood on, to resemblance, friendship, and harmony with the beauty of reason.” Republic 3
“to discover the difference between the just life and the unjust one.” Republic 7
“the most decent among the philosophers are useless to the majority. . . It isn’t natural for the captain to beg the sailors to be ruled by him nor for the wise to knock at the doors of the rich—. . . the greatest number are completely vicious and the most decent useless.” Rep 7
“we either convince him and the others or, at any rate, do something that may benefit them in a later incarnation, when, reborn, they happen upon these arguments again.” Rep 7
see that none of the uninitiated are listening to us—I mean the people who think that nothing exists but what they can grasp with both hands; people who refuse to admit that actions and processes and the invisible world in general have any place in reality. Theaetetus
if you and I were professional savants, who had already analyzed all the contents of our minds, we should now spend our superfluous [e] time trying each other out
What enlightened people do
we are only plain men; and so our first aim will be to look at our thoughts themselves in relation to themselves, and see what they are—whether, in our opinion, they agree with one another or are entirely at variance.
What philosophers do
to reconsider this matter quietly and patiently, in all seriousness ‘analyzing’ ourselves, and asking what are these apparitions within us?
The Importance and True Nature of LOVE
When I initially gave this presentation on the spiritual aspects of Socrates’ teachings to the Santa Fe Philosophical Meetup I included a section called “The Importance and True Nature of Love.” At the time, this topic seemed self-explanatory and I think I glossed over it very quickly in my talk. Now, in expanding on that talk through these blog entries I feel overwhelmed at the complications involved in talking about “Love.”
I will be honest: the topic of “LOVE” and how it fits into either Socrates’ or any of the threads of Eastern spirituality that I am familiar with is just too big for this tiny blog. The word “love,” in English, has so many different uses and connotations and from what I know there isn’t such a catch-all LOVE word used in either Socrates’ or the ancient Buddhist scriptures.
My original intention in including the topic of “LOVE” in my talk was to bring up “love,” as in, “love your neighbor.” In the West we often associate the highest connotations of the word, “love,” with Jesus’s teachings. So in asserting that Socrates also taught a “love” similar to what is found in the Gospels was an underhanded way of connecting philosophy with religion. But of course, I am not prepared to prove that type of connection here. So I actually bit off more than I am prepared to chew by introducing the idea of “Love” into this discussion.
I am left to give only with a few vague hand gestures around the “Love” connection between Socrates and Eastern spirituality. And I only provide one quote from Plato’s Republic (ch. III) for them:
“The right kind of love is by nature the love of order and beauty . . the right kind of love has nothing mad or licentious about it. . . . sexual pleasure mustn’t come into it.”
Sound like a quote from the Buddha? Does to me, if you allow Socrates use of the word “beauty” to mean not the low forms of beauty (the sensuous) but the high forms of beauty (what is noble, peaceful, balanced, infinite . . the unconditioned).
The importance of what Socrates calls the “good” connects his philosophy not only with Eastern spirituality but even with the teachings of Jesus. For Socrates the “good” is similar to the “yamas” and the “niyamas” within Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras in that it involves virtue but is also more than that. In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali lists virtues that a spiritual aspirant must acquire and also lists the types of actions that must be avoided. We could call this morality in that it judges actions to be good and bad in degrees but we could say that these are simply instructions within the science of spirituality. In other words, the Eastern gurus call us to act virtuous or morally correct because they recognize that this type of behavior leads to the best of all possible lives. According to Patanjali, the spiritual aspirant must be virtuous in order to reach the highest levels of peace and joy. The Buddha’s instructions within the famous “Discourse on Effacement” (MN 8) are similar: the Buddha calls for monks to act virtuously so that can they can succeed in clearing suffering out of their lives.
Socrates also heavily emphasizes the “good” as a way for a philosopher to get to truth. He connects the “good” with moral ideas of justice and self-control (which he calls temperance and moderation) but also links the “good” directly with the identity of Divinity. Socrates in fact sees the “good” and the Divine to be synonymous. For him, the very structure of existence is “good” and is aligned with aspects of the “good” like justice and beauty BECAUSE the “good” is the true creating Divine principle. In other words, we exist in order to recognize, highlight and promote (we could even say worship) the “good.” [NOT that the world is “good” because it is created by the good God.] So being “good” pays us back by producing a “good” life because it connects us with the Divine archetypical structure of life.
Thus for Socrates, the philosopher knows that being “good” is truly the wisest and most beneficial way of living because of the obvious logical connection. For Socrates, a “good” life logically develops through connection with and alignment with the “good.” Much of Socrates’ conversations, just like the Buddha’s sutras, involve the “guru” trying to describe what being “good” looks like in practice so that the disciples bring their behavior into alignment with it.
“Socrates argues that . . . our ‘salvation in life’ depends upon an ‘art of measurement’ that will overcome the power of appearance and get us to act rightly always.” FROM the introduction to Plato’s Protagoras by John M. Cooper (Complete Works of Plato, 1997)
In the “Discourse on Effacement” the Buddha teaches that meditation is not enough to realize the goal of life, one must become “good” in word and deed. In that sutra he lists the many do’s and don’ts of “good” behavior:
“But herein, effacement should be practiced by you: others will be harmful, we shall not be harmful here – thus effacement can be done. Others will kill living beings; we shall abstain from killing living beings. . . . Others will take what is not given. . . .Others will be unchaste. . . .Others will speak falsehood. . . .Others will speak maliciously. . . .Others will speak harshly. . . .Others will gossip. . . .Others will be covetous. . . .Others will have thoughts of ill will. . . .Others will have wrong views. . . .Others will have wrong intention. . . .Others will use wrong speech. . . .Others will commit wrong actions. . . .” and this list continues with 29 more prerogatives of “good” behavior.
“what is advantageous is nothing other than the movement of a soul in accord with the movement of things.” —Cratylus
Socrates sees the “good” and the Divine as inseparable and describes them both interchangeably, in a similar manner to many Eastern spiritual texts. He also commonly describes the “good” synonymously with more concrete virtuous ideals like “justice.”
“Because the good penetrates everything, it has the power to regulate everything.”– Cratylus
“It is governor and penetrator of everything else, it is rightly called ‘just.”— Cratylus
“In God there is no sort of wrong whatsoever; he is supremely just.” —Theaetetus
TEMPERANCE is another quality of the “good” that leads to the best of all possible lives, according to Socrates. He describes temperance as not only control over our indulgence in sensual pleasures but also as a type of humility and lack of self-importance. Again we could see this as a preaching of “morality” but that would miss the more important philosophical connection between being “good” and living “good.”
Temperance is“to obey the rulers and to rule [over] the pleasures of drink, sex, and food for themselves.” –Republic ch.3
“. . . then it would be of the greatest benefit to us to be temperate. Because those of us who had temperance would live lives free from error and so would all those who were under our rule. Neither would we ourselves be attempting to do things we did not understand—rather we would find those who did understand and turn the matter over to them [a description of humility] —nor would we trust those over whom we ruled to do anything except what they would do correctly, and this would be that of which they possessed the science. And thus, by means of temperance, every household would be well-run, and every city well-governed, and so in every case where temperance reigned. And with error rooted out and rightness in control, men so circumstanced would necessarily fare admirably and well in all their doings.” –Charmides
Socrates describes justice as one aspect of the “good” and as an aspect of the “good” recommends it universally to philosophers as a way of making their life “good” in the highest sense.
JUSTICE: “the just man never harms anyone, since everything he does is for the benefit of all.” –Clitophon
This is the same practical benefits of virtue made within many Eastern spiritual texts. Remaining harmless to others, taking less in life, being generous with everything one has, being patient, refraining from injust or unfair business practices, etc. are traits recommended both in the East and in Socrates’ writings.
“. . . people who are truly and fully just thereby lead a better, happier life than any unjust person could.” –Republic ch.3
“. . . how much more advantageous it is for the individual to be just rather than unjust.” —Republic
“. . . just and unjust actions are no different for the soul than healthy and unhealthy things are for the body.” —Republic ch.5
“Injustice, Thrasymachus, causes civil war, hatred, and fighting among themselves, while justice brings friendship and a sense of common purpose.” –Republic
“. . . just people are cleverer and more capable of doing things” –Republic
“Justice? I myself put it among the finest goods, as something to be valued by anyone who is going to be blessed with happiness, both because of itself and because of what comes from it.” –Republic
To be “good” is to have high principles and to act in accordance with them; in other words, to be a decent human being not out fear of a punishing God but from the realization that being “good” is logically the most beneficial way of living.
“a decent person is most self-sufficient in living well and, above all others, has the least need of anyone else. . . it’s less dreadful for him than for anyone else to be deprived of his son, brother, possessions, or any other such things. . . . [he] bears misfortune most quietly.” –Republic ch.3
To this list of characteristics of the “good” (the just, the temperate, the humble) Socrates adds other virtues like moderation, courage, frankness, high-mindedness, single-mindedness, concentration and truthfulness:
“neither we, nor the guardians we are raising, will be educated in music and poetry until we know the different forms of moderation, courage, frankness, high-mindedness, and all their kindred, and their opposites too.” –Republic ch.3
Socrates even includes attention or a focused mind as part of being “good” just as the Buddha did: “single-mindedness or truthfulness (these being the same thing)” –Cratylus
Finally, Socrates connects the “good” not only with the Divine but also with “truth” in the highest sense of the word. But since the “truth” is really a description of the “good” it remains below the “good” in primacy:
“what gives truth to the things known and the power to know to the knower is the form of the good.” —Republic ch.7
“Both knowledge and truth are beautiful things, but the good is other and more beautiful than they.” —Republic ch.7
“Not only do the objects of knowledge owe their being known to the good, but their being is also due to it, although the good is not being, but superior to it in rank and power. . . . one [is the] sovereign of the intelligible kind and place, the other of the visible.” —Republic ch.7
Because the good penetrates everything, it has the power to regulate (kerannutai) everything. –Cratylus
Many other quotes from Eastern scriptures could be included here, outlining the importance of virtuous behavior in their science of spirituality. Quotes from the Gospels of Jesus would show that the New Testament contains nearly identical recommendations. The point I am making here, overly briefly perhaps, is that “being good and doing good leads to the best of possible lives” is clearly a central aspect to the teachings of Socrates and to the major spiritual gurus of the East.
One of the cornerstones of all spiritual thought is the recognition of the fleeting nature of material existence. Eastern spirituality is known for its argument against attaching oneself too strongly to material existence because existence is constantly changing. This attention to “IMPERMANENCE” is a central teaching of the Buddha among other Eastern gurus. Impermanence is one of the principle focuses of the Buddhist Vipassana style meditation, the idea being that detachment to all types of “possessions” comes automatically as the impermanence or changing nature of all things is seen during meditation. This type of detachment frees us from suffering and opens us up to transcendental experiences and knowledge, so Eastern spirituality has repeatedly taught. I will add quotes from Eastern spiritual scriptures to support this later on. For now, I want to show how Socrates’ ideas are similar.
Before I list and explain quotes of Socrates however, I want to warn the reader that the connection between Socrates ideas and the similar ideas from Eastern scriptures is far from obvious. Socrates taught the idea of impermanence in his own way and the terms he used might not be immediately understandable to a person familiar with the corresponding Eastern ideas. In other words, I am not making a claim that the words Socrates used to describe impermanence are identical to the ones used in Eastern texts even after they have both been translated into English. If the similarity between the two were obvious it would have already been noticed by the perhaps tens of thousands of western academic scholars who have dedicated their lives to Plato’s writings and Socrates philosophy. No, the words are different but once a thorough analysis is performed one sees that the essence and practical import are the same in both. That is the conclusion that I want to share. Unfortunately, in order to see this connection a reader has to come to Socrates’ teachings with “new” eyes so to speak. Thinking that we already understand the import of Plato’s writings and Socrates’ teachings will surely make the task of seeing the connection with Eastern writings an impossible one. Even a reader with “fresh eyes,” so to speak, will not see the connection between Socrates and the Eastern writings unless a considerable amount of intellectual effort into the task of seeing the connection is made.
Not to sound negative, but I don’t expect many readers to follow me in these arguments because the readers who are oriented to this type of heavy intellectual analysis are most likely already prejudiced by the accepted (“academic”) understandings of Socrates and the potential readers who are not already prejudiced in this way are not likely to willingly put in the strenuous contemplation that both my arguments and Socrates’ arguments themselves require in order to understand fully. Nevertheless, the connection is valid and the argument for that connection is worth sharing.
The following quotes from Plato illustrate Socrates’ version of impermanence. Socrates explains that we perceive the phenomenal world through the use of sets of qualitative opposing ideas (hot/cold, etc.) but we don’t actually gain any real knowledge of those objects in that way. Socrates teaches that our world of objects is constantly changing and we know those objects in the present moment and only relative to the ideas we ascribe to them. Thus we really only know the mental ideals that we use and not anything absolute about the objects we connect them with. Objects change, only the ideas about them are not subject to change.
“For since things are being swept along, wisdom is the power to grasp, comprehend, and follow them. . . .if [an object] never stays the same, how can it BE something? Everything changes, moves, except the ideals.” –FROM Plato’s Cratylus.
In this quote Socrates undermines the conventional assumption that objects have fixed cores that allow them to clearly and solidly exist as the specific objects that we have named them as. For example, an apple on our desk surely exists because we can name it as an apple (using its prescribed characteristics) but Socrates shows that as the apple changes (gets chopped or cooked) we need to add other qualifying ideas to follow its changing nature. Furthermore, Socrates says, if we have to change the names or the ideas of names for an object in order to follow the changing of that object, can that object be said to have ever existed as anything we can fixedly name? If objects of our world are not so fixed then how can we claim to own them or even really know them? We know only the ideas or sets of opposite conditions that we use to describe objects and not the objects in themselves. This type of philosophical contemplation leads to attitude of detachment from material existence that Socrates repeats again and again throughout Plato’s dialogues and mirrors that emphasis within Eastern spiritual writings.
“We must understand this account as applying in the same way to hard and hot and everything else: nothing, as we were saying before, is in itself any of these. All of them, of all kinds whatsoever, are what things become through association with one another, as the result of motion. For even in the case of the active and passive motions it is impossible, as they say, for thought, taking them singly, to pin them down to being anything. There is no passive till it meets the active, no active except in conjunction with the passive; and what, in conjunction with one thing, is active, reveals itself as passive when it falls in with something else. And so, wherever you turn, there is nothing, as we said at the outset, which in itself is just one thing; all things become relatively to something. The verb ‘to be’ must be totally abolished.” — FROM Plato’s Theaetetus.
“One cannot understand them [objects] as fixedly being or fixedly not being or as both or as neither.” — FROM Plato’s Republic Chapter 5.
Socrates teaches that philosophers are just like Eastern spiritualists in that they are searching for what is stable, what is dependable, what is Eternal in life. That quest is initiated as a search for truth and nothing more. Both Eastern spirituality and the dialogues of Socrates are obsessed with truth and that obsession has led them both to examine the very nature of “being” or existence. And the foundation of that inquiry is the realization that in our everyday lives we treat the objects of our world as “existing” or as “being” in a fixed stable way and that habit is not justified by the careful observations and analyses of “philosophers” or “spiritualists.” One of the central teachings of the Buddha’s discourses or sutras was that to hold any “extreme view” about the nature of any object is a sign of complete ignorance. In other words, the Buddha also taught that we cannot go around thinking that we know the “reality” of the objects that we perceive in the world. For the Buddha, suffering comes from the very belief that we can know about the world and its objects. Without this belief, all of our evil and unwholesome habits come to an end:
“Monks, as to the source through which perceptions and notions born of mental proliferation beset a man: if nothing is found there to delight in, welcome and hold to, this is the end of the underlying tendency to lust, of the underlying tendency to aversion, of the underlying tendency to [having fixed opinions or] views, of the underlying tendency to doubt, of the underlying tendency to conceit, of the underlying tendency to desire for being, of the underlying tendency to ignorance; this is the end of resorting to rods and weapons, of quarrels, brawls, disputes, recrimination, malicious words, and false speech; here these evil unwholesome states cease without remainder.” FROM the Madhupindika Sutta (MN 18) emphasis mine.
In other words, the Buddha taught that the changing nature of everything means that there is nothing within anything to “delight in, welcome and hold to.” When we no longer feel confident that anything “IS” and we admit that “the verb ‘to be’ must be totally abolished,” just as Socrates teaches, then our evil tendencies end along with the suffering that they cause.
Of course, this teaching has led to criticism of both teachers. Some criticize the Buddha’s teachings as being nihilist and anti-life, even pro-death. IN THE SAME WAY, Socrates can be wrongly criticized. But the truth is that both teachers were leading others away from valuing life for the wrong reasons. Both teachers were attempting to turn our attention from things that change and are unstable towards what is unchanging and eternal.
“Philosophic natures always love the sort of learning that makes clear to them some feature of the being that always is and does not wander around between coming to be and decaying.” FROM Plato’s Republic ch. 7.
In my attempt to show the connection between the teachings of Socrates and those of so-called “Eastern Spirituality” I zeroed in on 8 different themes. These were eight statements about life or aspects of life that seemed to me to be nearly identical to what I have found in Eastern religious/spiritual scriptures. It was very easy for me to pull out an assortment of quotes from Plato’s writings to support these 8 themes and I could have included many more than I did. Although I see the connection between Socrates and Eastern spiritual gurus to go beyond these 8 themes, I decided to start the discussion with them. I will use the next blog posts to go through each of these themes in detail. These 8 themes are:
1. EVERYTHING is CHANGING, MOVING (Impermanent)
2. Virtues or Qualities of the “GOOD”
3. The Importance and True Nature of LOVE
4. ROLE of the true PHILOSOPHER
5. DESCRIPTION of a true PHILOSOPHER
6. The ESSENCE, or the FORMS, as Key to the ETERNAL
7. The Importance of SELF-INQUIRY or The Examined Life
8. The Analogy of the CAVE, or THE DECEPTION of APPEARANCES
SOCRATES, The Original Western Guru
In the summer of 2016 I gave a presentation on the teachings of Socrates as a type of “spirituality” to The Santa Fe Philosophical Society Meetup. My argument to them was, in essence, that the so-called “philosophy” of Socrates, as described by the ancient Greek author Plato, is the same as what was taught by Indian gurus of the ancient world. I boiled down all of Socrates teachings to the idea that “Doing and being ‘GOOD,’ in the highest sense of that word, leads to the greatest of all possible lives.” This is, of course, an over-simplication of an incredibly profound body of teachings, but it is, I believe, still valid with that caveat.
In that presentation I briefly went through a number of ways in which Socrates’ teachings match up with Eastern scriptures. I primarily used Hindu and Buddhist scriptures to make the comparison but I believe I could have just as easily used other Eastern sources as well.
The results of that talk inspired me to write a book outlining my point extensively and that inspiration to write a book has been reduced somewhat to write a series of blog articles. And so, this is the first in a series of articles in which I would like to share with you the details of this startling and exciting connection between Western and Eastern thought. For, if I am right and there is a strong similarity between the teachings of Socrates and what is considered Eastern “Spiritual” teachings today then a bridge is created. That bridge shows cultural unity instead of division and can help westerners to feel more at home following “spiritual” principles. If Socrates is truly a “guru” on par with the “gurus” of Indian thought then that East/West divide starts to look a bit artificial and “spirituality” in the form that is studied today can be recognized as the property not just of the East but of all cultures and all races.
What is SPIRIT?
Spirit is the term used to indicate the source of blessings or gifts which inspire, support and even push us to gain wisdom and the freedom that comes from wisdom. Wisdom can also be described as direct, dependable knowledge of the absolute truth of who we are, why we were born and why we will die.
What is GOD?
GOD (or GODDESS) is the term commonly used to describe Spirit as something we can have a personal relationship with, in which real two way communication can occur. Addressing (or praying to) God (or GODDESS) is a way of declaring that Spirit has the power to interact with us on our level.
Why do we need Spirit or God (GODDESS)?
Nothing in our physical world has the power to give us wisdom. Acquiring wisdom is a miraculous/mysterious affair that can only happen with the blessing of Spirit. This spiritual force is counter to the physical forces of the material world and that is why we can call it something special; that is,”Spirit,” or “God,” or “GODDESS.” Spirit teaches us about the value of wisdom, shows us the path to wisdom, inspires us to tread that path, assesses our efforts on that path and finally CAN reward us with wisdom for those efforts.
We need Spirit or God (GODDESS) because the natural influence of our physical lives is to push us away from wisdom and into greater and greater ignorance. We need Spirit or God (GODDESS) because wisdom is better for us than ignorance. Spirit or God/Goddess IS the natural attraction to wisdom that is at the center of everything. Wisdom is the greatest blessing because it creates love in our hearts and peace in our minds. Ignorance, however, creates anger in our hearts and anxiety in our minds. The benefits of spiritual wealth (wisdom) are therefore greater than the benefits of material wealth because only spiritual wealth actually gives us what we want: true happiness. No amount of material wealth can ever give us what we truly want, happiness, because that wealth can disappear as fast as it can be gained whereas wisdom, once gained, gives us happiness and cannot ever be lost.
What is Spirituality?
Spirituality is the choice to go after wisdom in spite of the physical/social pressures to go after immediate pleasure, comfort and security. Spirituality is the waging of a war against the pressures of material anxiety in order to attract and make the proper use of the blessings from Spirit. The specifics of that war, including the timing of victories and defeats, come from Spirit and the only choice we can make on our own is how fast we advance when we win a battle and how long we stay down when we lose a battle. That choice is a result of our attitude and can shorten or lengthen the duration of the war. The perfect attitude is infinitely patient and generous, courageous, indefatigable and zealously enthusiastic. Such an attitude is a certain sign that the war is almost over with Spirit, the victor, and wisdom, the prize.
Recorded spontaneously in winter 2015, this track is about going within to find a source of Eternal peace
Merry Christmas! Just donated to ‘Used Shoes For Guatemala Kids’. Give $1. Change a lot. https://onetoday.google.com/p/bqnr5b4m