Socrates and Plato - Track 102

In philosophy one of the best methods of learning is asking questions. In fact for all knowledge asking questions is important. But in philosophy particularly asking questions is extremely important, the more you will be able to formulate your question, the better will be your mind philosophically. Therefore I will now not explain this particular statement. Think over it, even if it takes two months, I don’t mind but one day you will ask me the question as to what it means or you will explain to me what it means, when I’ll ask you the question. So this is about Parmenides. Then there were some other philosophers and I don’t wish to burden your mind until you come to Socrates, who was born in 469 BC. This is an important date to be remembered. If you read Western philosophical book, you will find two terms, – pre-Socratic and post-Socratic. Pre-Socratic means that which came before Socrates, post-Socratic that which came after Socrates that is because Socrates stands out as a figure in the Greek thought so colossal that all that was before him is called pre-Socratic, all that came after him is called post-Socratic. It is about that Socrates that I want to read to you the paper that I have distributed today what is his importance. So let us read this paper. I have begun this with a quotation from Sri Aurobindo to indicate what Sri Aurobindo considered to be very important in regard to Socrates. While describing the psychic being, a word which is used everywhere used often here, – the psychic being, it is in describing psychic being that Sri Aurobindo writes as follows, “It (the true soul) is the concealed witness and control, the hidden Guide, the Daemon of Socrates, the inner light or inner voice of the mystic."

Socrates used to say:"I have in me a daemon”, not a devil in his heart but daemon, the secret soul. So he used to say I have been guided in my life by the Divine and this divine has always spoken to me from within me and what was that within? He called it daemon. He used to say whenever I want to enact; if I should not do it the daemon speaks to me and says” don’t do it.” And then thereafter I don’t do it. But when I don’t get any kind of indication of not doing it, I do it. It doesn’t say do this or do that, it says don’t do it when it is not to be done. Now Sri Aurobindo says this experience is a very important experience in spiritual life. When you begin to have in your being a great aspiration to do the right thing always, never to fall down in your action towards the wrong action, when this aspiration becomes very intense then there awakes in you your inmost soul and one of the best ways that the soul guides you is to reveal to you in one way or the other that you should do this or you should do that, or you should not do this or you should not do that. This is the mark of your heightened aspiration. Very often you find there is uneasiness in your heart, in your being and that shows that there is something that the soul wants to tell you. And Mother has said that whenever you feel uneasiness do not try to forget it, whenever there is uneasiness, withdraw for some time, look into yourself and ask: why is it that I am feeling uneasy? Be very, very quiet and you will get indication as to what you should do or what you should not do or at least to wait before you do until your being becomes clearer.

Now Socrates had developed that faculty and used to say: “I have a daemon in me”, a kind of a witness, a guide, a control which tells me not to do something when something it is not to be done, that is why Socrates is called a mystic. A mystic is one who leads the life in search of the soul, of the spirit, of the inmost being, of the Divine, – that is the mystic. Now the whole life of Socrates is a life in search of this inmost being and that is why very often even in the midst of a conversation he used to stop suddenly and enter into a state of trance. Trance is a state in which you plunge into the depth of your being or you rise high above in your being, this depth or the height is so great that there is a disconnection between your present state of consciousness and that depth or that height. In ordinary experience it is something like sleep. In sleep also you go deep and that depth is so distant from your outer being that if you are too much plunged into that depth the link with the outer world gets lost. You must have experienced that when you are feeling sleepy somebody talks to you and you lose contact with that somebody who is talking to you. That somebody goes on talking but you don’t hear anything, you’re absolutely getting plunged into the state of sleep that is because the distance between the outer and the internal is so great that the link is cut.

Similarly when you are into a deep thought, a deep experience or when you enter into a great height of knowledge then also the similar experience is gained. Now Socrates had this great capacity of entering into depth of thought, and great heights of thought and Plato sometimes describes in his dialogues these visitations of Socrates into the depths of his being. Let me see if I can get one passage from Plato which describes one of the experiences of Socrates. Socrates it is said was liable to trances at least that seems the natural explanation of such an incident which occurred once when he was in military service. Socrates was also a soldier; he was recruited as a soldier in the army. So even was in his expedition in the army, this is what is described by Plato in a dialogue called Symposium. This word ‘Symposium’ also you should remember because it is regarded as the highest points of human thought, – this dialogue ‘Symposium’. It is written: “One morning he was thinking about something which he could not resolve, he would not give it up but continued thinking from early dawn until noon. There he stood fixed in thought and at noon attention was drawn to him and the rumour ran through the wondering crowd that Socrates had been standing and thinking about something ever since the break of day, at last in the evening after supper some Ionians out of curiosity brought out their mats and slept in the open air that they might watch him and see whether he would stand all night. There he stood until the following morning and with the return of light offered a prayer to the sun and went his way.” So this is the kind of trance that he used to go into from time to time.

There is also another incidence given in the Symposium. “Socrates and Aristodemus go together to the banquet but Socrates drops behind in a fit of abstraction. When Aristodemus arrives, Agathon, the host says: What have you done with Socrates? Aristodemus was astonished to find that Socrates not with him. A slave is sent to look for him and finds him in the portico of a neighbouring house. “There he is fixed” says the slave on his return and when I called to him, he will not stir.” Such were the experiences in which Socrates used to plunge but that was his side of mysticism, there was also a side of his rationality. He was at once highly spiritual and highly rational or intellectual. He is a curious mixture of mysticism and rationalism. It is he who pleaded for the development of the intellect in the Western history. We may say that Socrates marks a kind of an evening of mysticism so that mysticism after him begins to diminish in Plato it still remains but after Plato mysticism, what remains in the Western tradition thereafter is rationalism, the reign of intellect. If the West is called rationalistic it is because of this element. The mysticism was going down like a sunset and rationalism was rising. It is like a sun going down and the moon rising, the moon of reason was rising and the sun of mysticism was setting and the two met together in Socrates and Plato. And thereafter only the intellect reigned and even today it is largely rationalistic.