Thursday, October 25, 2012

Plato's cave. And after liberation?

The 2400 years old works of Greek philosopher Plato can be called the basis of all western philosophy up to modern day. Some go so far as to say that the entire western philosophy history is but a footnote to Plato. If this is so, then all western philosophy must start off in his famous allegory of the cave, describing humanity's situation. (And if it doesn't?)

Plato lets Socrates describe a group of people who have lived chained to the wall of a cave all of their lives, facing a blank wall, backs to the cave-opening and the sun. The people watch shadows projected on the wall, and begin to ascribe forms to these shadows. The shadows are as close as the prisoners get to viewing reality.

What keeps the prisoners in bondage is wrong knowledge, wrong identification, and those things which drag them down and turn the vision of their souls upon the things that are below — gratification of the senses, based on I-am-the-body-consciousness. 

He then explains how a prisoner is freed from the cave and comes to understand that the shadows on the wall do not make up reality at all, as he can perceive the true form of reality rather than the mere shadows seen by the prisoners:

“What if someone forcibly dragged such a man upward, out of the cave, all the way out into the sunlight? First he would be blinded by the light, but after some time on the surface, the freed prisoner would acclimate. He would see more and more things around him, until he could look upon the Sun. He would understand that the Sun is the source of the seasons and the years, and is the guardian of all that is in the visible world, and is in a certain way the cause of all those things he and his companions had been seeing.”

Animation of Plato's allegory of the cave to the reading of the original text

And after liberation? The rest of eternity?

1 comment:

  1. I read this the other day, which is why I was reminded of Plato's cave:

    Srimad Bhagavatam, 1:1:17, purport by Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada:

    The material creations are manifested for some time as perverted shadows of the spiritual kingdom and can be likened to cinemas. They attract people of less intelligent caliber who are attracted by false things. They have no information of the reality, and they take it for granted that the false material manifestation is the all in all. But more intelligent men guided by sages like Vyāsa and Nārada know that the eternal kingdom of God is more delightful, larger, and eternally full of bliss and knowledge.

    Those who are not conversant with the activities of the Lord and His transcendental realm are sometimes favored by the Lord in His adventures as incarnations, wherein He displays the eternal bliss of His association in the transcendental realm. By such activities He attracts the conditioned souls of the material world.

    Some of these conditioned souls are engaged in the false enjoyment of material senses and others in simply negating their real life in the spiritual world. These persons are known as karmīs, or fruitive workers, and jñānīs, or dry mental speculators. But above these two classes of men is the transcendentalist known as sātvata, or the devotee, who is busy neither with rampant material activity nor with mental speculation. He is engaged in the positive service of the Lord [not just negative renunciation of, and liberation from, the undesired - Sd],* and thereby he derives the highest spiritual benefit, unknown to the karmīs and jñānīs.

    * Swami B. V. Tripurari Maharaj: "If we move from negative numbers to zero, then zero appears to have positive value. But are there positive numbers as well?"