In this book one of the most important arguments is related to the question: “what is it that can be known”? And the ultimate answer that is given is: “you can know, only what “is”. Can that which “is not”, be even an object of knowledge?” The object must be present to be known. How can that which “is not an object”, be ever known? Socrates’ answer to the question is: you can know only what “is”. That, which is not, is never an object of knowledge. Therefore the question of his knowledge even does not arise. The only thing that can be known is that which “is”. And then, Socrates points out that, that which is manifested, that which is present before us is: “is-is not”. It “is”, and it “is not”. That can never become an object of knowledge: that which “is”, and “is not”, can never become the object of Knowledge. He makes the distinction between what is called “knowledge” and “opinion”. Of that which “is” and “is not”, you can have an opinion about it, but you can never have the knowledge of it. In order to have the knowledge, you should have the Knowledge of the essence, which is always there, in spite of all manifestations.
This is the basic thesis of Plato, spoken through the mouth of Socrates’. In other words, according to Plato, “Reality is that which always, eternally “is”; that which is a phenomenon cannot really be known, but you can only have an opinion about it.”
He believes, and he points out that all so called “knowledge of the world”, about which we are constantly moving about here and there, ultimately ends only in opinion: human beings normally run their lives by opinions. And so long as they run by opinions, you never have the mastery over things. The mastery comes only when you can discover what “is”. The things of the world are neither beautiful nor ugly: there are mixtures. The Real knowledge is only the knowledge of Beauty, which forever “is”. The True knowledge is always about the Good, which always “is”. The Knowledge is always about the Truth, and Truth is that which “is” and forever. He makes the distinction between “Truth” and “facts”. Normally when we state, any statement about facts, we say, “I have spoken the truth”; but facts are in a fleeting condition: they “are”─ they “are not”.
According to Plato that which is present as a fact, you can never really know, because it is a fleeting fact; that which is now, and tomorrow or next moment, it is not there. In order to know, you must know what “is”.
This theory of Plato and this statement of the Bhagavad Gita are often compared with each other. There is even a theory that Plato learned a great deal of his own philosophy by discussing with Indians. It is said that Indians used to travel from India to Greece in early times, and surely Plato lived much after the Bhagavad Gita, much after Sri Krishna, historically. Therefore, it is said that the whole philosophy of “Republic”, which is supposed to be the pinnacle of human thought, is a commentary upon this sentence of the Bhagavad Gita.
That is why the importance of this little sentence, which says with such a tremendous surety:
nāsato vidyate bhāvo nābhāvo vidyate sataḥ |
“That which exists, exists; that which does not exists, does not exists.”
The one who is the wise one, one who is established in Knowledge makes a distinction between “existence” and “phenomenon”. The relevance of this sentence is in the Bhagavad Gita, the following: the entire argument of Arjuna was, “I shall not fight, because here is my grandfather, here is my teacher, and I am now supposed to kill them.” In other words the question was that, “they are now, and after I administer my battle weapons, they will be destroyed, they will not be anymore.” His whole argument was based upon this that “they which ‘are’ will not ‘be’.” And he was claiming in his argument that his whole thought was sublime, and supreme thought. In order to counteract this illusion about himself that he was speaking the language of the wisest, in order to tell Arjuna that you are speaking the word of wise, but you are not really wise. Because the wise people do not argue in the way in which you are arguing. That which “is” always remain; that which “is not”, will never come into existence. That which is now, and will disappear afterwards, is only a phenomenon. Therefore the wise people will have first of all, put down this sentence, not the sentence that you are speaking. They “are” and they will “not be”, this is not the way in which the wise people will start their argument. They will first state this, “That which exists, exists; that which does not, does not.”
This is the starting point of Sri Krishna’s argument, in order to demolish the illusion in which Arjuna was arguing. Arjuna had felt while arguing: na kāṅkṣe rājyaṁ na kāṅkṣe sukhāṁ, “I do not wish the kingdom, I do not wish the happiness”. This is the statement, which seems to be the statement of one whose reason is very high, and then he begins to argue that here are the people who “are” and who will “not be”.
Sri Krishna says that, “If you are speaking the language of the wise then I will first give you the first premise; you have no premise first of all”. In any argument, there must be a premise, then there must be a secondary statement, and by mixture of these two statements you come of the conclusion. In effect what Sri Krishna tells to Arjuna is, “You have no starting point of argument; your starting argument is a minor proposition; there is no major premise, no major proposition.”
Sri Krishna supplies the major premise. He starts with the premise, “That which ‘is’, always ‘is’; that which ‘is not’, does not come into existence. That which ‘is’, can never go out of existence. Of non-existence there can be no existence. Of existence, there can be no non-existence. Start with this statement, now you argue; your conclusion will be quite different.” And ‘this’, He says, ‘is’ by Buddhi, if you apply your intellectual argumentation properly. Then you will discriminate between that which ‘is’ and that which ‘is not’, or all that which is a phenomenon which ‘is’, and which ‘is not’.