Socrates and Plato - Session 16 (17 September 2001)

I have read your papers they're all very good

“You've done some research and would ask the question about Justinian’ yes we have got something I’m just going to say something. Yes please let us see. You can speak on the Mic if you like.

So I have that between 527 and 563 he's the two majestic …..**

Good! It is he who closed down the academy of Plato. You know the reason for it he was as you said right he was a Christian and Plato’s thought was not absolutely coincidental with Christianity so he thought that Plato’s academy would hurt Christianity and that is why he closed down on the academy of Plato good I’m very happy I think everyone should get a copy of what you read out how to make a copy of it I think if you give this text to Deepti she can get it photocopied and everybody can have a copy of it

Now last time we had a very important subject which we discussed mainly—existence. We discussed this while distinguishing between appearance and reality. Now I will make one statement over which we need to reflect. Existence cannot be perceived but can be conceived. Now reflect on this statement. Existence cannot be perceived but can be conceived. According to Plato you cannot perceive existence but you can conceive existence. There is a distinction between perception and conception. Now can it be said that we do not perceive existence, Plato says so, Plato says you cannot perceive existence but you can conceive existence. Do you perceive existence anywhere? You can for example say: this is a lion, fine. Then do you add and see that he exists. State, first of all say: lion, point out lion and then say see that he is existing can you make a statement of this kind or even if you make a statement does it make any difference? The moment you say lion, point out to him, are you perceiving existence apart from the lion or you are only seeing the lion? This is the statement to be reflected in fact many philosophers have reflected upon this simple thing for years and years and years. Plato said you never see existence, you never perceive existence, and you can only conceive existence. Now you must therefore distinguish between perception and conception. What is conception? We normally feel we see existence everywhere, where so many things are in existence. So Plato seems to be wrong when he says that we cannot perceive existence but anything that is presented to us is an experience of existence. What he says is: what is perceived is only this object or that object, or that object or an assemblage of objects; you can perceive, you can sense and perceive so many existing objects. You are seeing objects, he says you are not seeing existence, you are only perceiving objects but you can conceive existence. Let us take another example. You take two human beings, any two human beings you take, now according to Plato you cannot perceive similarity between the two human beings but you can conceive the similarity between the two. So it’s a very interesting perception. Actually we think that we perceive similarity between this and this. There are two human beings and we see both are similar to each other, we see it. According to Plato you perceive this human being and perceive this human being but that they are similar to each other is not seen, is not perceived but conceived. So you can conceive of similarity. The whole idea of similarity is not given, is not perceived, and is not in your observation. What you observe is one object and the other and the moment you say they are similar something else has happened to your mind which has gone beyond perception. The operation of conception has started, you conceive.

Let see two cats. Now the cats are not absolutely identical, both are called cats. By virtue of what you call both these to be cats, whatever you are observing is not the cause of your saying they are similar, each cat is different from the other cat, this cat is not exactly identical with the other cat but there is between the two what we call cattiness. Now you don’t see cattiness, what you see is a cat and this cat and this cat. You don’t see cattiness, you conceive cattiness. You see two chairs, each chair has something similar to the other chair therefore both of them are called chairs. Some chairs have got arms, some don’t have arms but they are chairs, something like a chair-ness you perceive, you don’t perceive, conceive. You go beyond the realm of perception you enter into the realm of conception. Similarity, universality and existence are three things that Plato concentrated upon. These three are not perceived but conceived. What you perceive is always a particular, you perceive an assemblage of particulars, this object or that object or any other object but behind what you perceive is similarity only where there is operation of conception that you can have these two concepts—similarity, universality and existence are not precepts but they are concepts. I only invite you to think about it, don’t come to conclusions. It will take time for us to understand what is in us that conceives as distinguished from what is it that perceives. In perception you lose your senses, anything that is sensed can be perceived, it is said that actually speaking you don’t even perceive objects, you only perceive what is called ‘sensa’. There are so many vibrations of sensations that go on upon our senses,‘sense’of touch, ‘sense’of sight, sensa’ of hearing, ‘sense’ of taste. We only have sensations and these sensations are perceived, when they become more and more determinate, more and more fixed then we say I have perceived. If we are rushing in an express train and a lot of trees are running fast in the landscape, you may not perceive the trees, what you are perceiving is only the ‘sense’, so many impressions of trees isn’t it. So when we open our eyes, open our ears, what we are seeing is only a running landscape.

I told you yesterday or the day before yesterday, I told you that things in the world are moving fast even before you grasp it is gone. Anything even before you just touch it is gone. We must remember that all things that shift are running fast. The whole earth is like a ship which is running fast or like an aeroplane running fast in space and therefore everything in the world is moving. Whatever is around you is also moving for us, even the things which are stationary are for us moving because we are moving. So we are only getting ‘sensa’ actually. It is by some kind of an effort that we get some kind of fixity that fixity is called perception,’sensa’ are themselves fleeting fast. When we sense something it is simply a fast moving glare of 'sensa. When you fix them then I can say: I see you. It is a kind of a fast moving band of ‘sense, which I fix and say this is my friend, I see her clearly that is perception. The glare of sensation when they get fixed, I call it perception, I perceive. Even this perception is a notion. When you listen to a broadcast on the radio what you are listening to are only the words, which are fast moving words, so many signs are transmitted. A word is pronounced, a sound is heard and is gone, another sound comes and takes its place, it’s gone, it’s all moving fast. Somehow you are able to fix them. That fixing which is also temporary is what we call perception. All, the whole world that we are seeing is actually a movement of ‘sensa, somehow gets fixed for a short time which you call perceptions. Now it takes time for you to sit apart and say this looks similar to this if you are only at the level of sensa and perception you don't want the time to see the similarity. Something else begins to operate, when I say these two cats have got cattiness in them. When says idea of cattiness arising. What is the birth of the idea of cattiness? You only see this cat and that cat that's all but by seeing them something else happens something is triggered as it were and what is triggered is a universal idea of the cat. This cat may exist and may not exist. This cat may die tomorrow but cattiness does not die. Once I see cattiness I can recognize every cat in the world. Even if I have not seen all the cats. It's also very interesting that without seeing all the cats in the world I can say I know what is cattiness and therefore I know all the cats in the world. This is what sensation cannot tell you, perception cannot tell you. It is because you have conceived what is cattiness and cattiness is not this cat or that cat alone, this cat is different from that cat, but because you have seen what is cattiness you can recognise any cat however different from the cat that you are seeing. How does it happen? Because you conceive it’s not perception there is a conception, you will arrive at a conception. You can’t see cattiness, you conceive cattiness exactly, you don’t sense cattiness, you conceive cattiness.

According to Plato any object which you perceive has behind it a universal idea, like cattiness is an idea is a concept. Chairs have a universal idea behind them which we can call chairness. You conceive chairness and therefore you see that they are all chairs of different kinds but still all of them are chairs. Just as you may take two stones and give friction and fire is ignited. Similarly when you perceive so many objects and suddenly conception is ignited. According to Plato conception or the capacity of conception or the activity of conception in which universals are conceived that is the beginning of philosophical activity. What is philosophy? Philosophy is the conceiving of universals as a result you perceive what is called similarities, universals and existence. These three things are interdependent. It is universal which makes things similar and there is one universal which is existence everywhere. One supreme universal is existence. If there is one common term which is all the things you perceive in the world, one thing which is common to everything is existence, it is the highest universal you might say that is why Plato has taken these three examples,—similarity, universal and existence and he points out and this is the most important theory of Plato: Perception is not knowledge. As long as you remain at the level of perceiving, you are not in the field of knowledge, it's only when you conceive that you have knowledge. When you rise to the level of conception then you enter into the field of knowledge. This activity of conception is the activity of what we call reason. When you say do you have reason, do you have the capacity of rationality, what is exactly meant, what do you mean by rationality? By rationality we mean conception of universals, only when you can conceive universals can you say: you have entered into the field of rationality. You will find that whenever you think, you are already using universals. We are all thinking, without even knowing that we are thinking by aid of universals. But you will find when you analyse any thought in your mind; you will find that you are having universals. Even a small sentence like ‘Man is mortal’, short sentence, ‘Man is mortal’ the thought. Now when you use the word ‘man’, you have got the concept of humanity, manness, what is manliness, what is manness, what is manhood and mortal is a word which can be understood only when you understand the idea of mortality. What is mortality? The concept of mortality? So, ‘Man is mortal’ this sentence is a thought, is a process of thinking, this process of thinking involves two universals—manhood and mortality these two concepts both are universal concepts.

Now we come to the last lap of Plato’s thinking and his theory. Every universal is an idea or you put it the other way, every idea is a universal. All human beings have got this capacity to have ideas in which universals are caught, understand the universal, you do not perceive. What you perceive is particular but we happen to understand the universal. Now this understanding of the universal is rationality. When we say man is a rational being what exactly do we mean? The man is a rational being, animals cannot have universal ideas they can only have ‘sensa’ and perceptions, some memory but even a small child as soon as he begins to develop a little it begins to have universal ideas, it’s automatic in their vision it is a special which is in reason, capacity to grasp universals this is called Pure Reason. Pure Reason is the faculty of grasping universals directly. You will find as you begin to think more and more you will have in your possession more and more universal ideas. Take for example cats, cattiness is one universal, you see two horses, hoarseness is another universal. Now you have the concept of animality—animals in which both cats and horses are included. It's a more universal idea and then you come to the highest universal idea that is existence. Existence is the most universal idea in which everything is included; nothing falls outside the idea of existence. What is the difference between an ordinary man and a thinker? A ordinary man also has many ideas, many universal ideas but he is not aware of them and secondly an ordinary man cannot play with many ordinary ideas together; a thinker has a large variety of universal ideas and can interconnect them and very fast, very quickly and arrive at a very universal higher and higher synthesis of ideas. A philosopher is one who lives in the world of ideas and compares ideas not objects but compares ideas with ideas and constantly arrives at higher and higher ideas. And you ask the question: are there some very supreme ideas in which all ideas are included. I told you just now existence is that idea. At a lower level there are three ideas which are called supreme ideas, when you think over them, I’ll just give you the three names, the whole world can be summed up in three ideas,—Truth, Beauty, Goodness, three ideas, supreme ideas—Truth, Beauty, Goodness. There is nothing in the world which cannot have one of these three things attached to it or all the three attached to it; every object in the world is True, Good and Beautiful, every object. These three ideas are supreme, overarching as it were. The interconnection of these three ideas, when you combine these three ideas also you still arrive at one supreme idea which Plato simply calls by no other, very difficult to call it by name, simply calls it the Good. The supreme idea is the idea of The Good.

Now I explained to you the whole of Plato actually in a few words. Many of these things require repetition of your thinking, it is said that philosophy should not be taught by lectures but greater reflection, you repeat the same ideas little by little, reflect and reflect again and again and then you begin to have conception; some light begins to emerge by your thinking, reflecting and suddenly you grasp. Conceptions are caught by a deep process of reflection. Theory is a very short theory like I told you just now, within a few minutes you can expound his theory but it opens out the vast vision of the whole universe. Now there is one word however which is very important in Plato, he says: ‘All universal ideas are forms. All universal ideas are forms.’ We need to reflect on this sentence ‘All universal ideas are forms’. What does it mean by saying that they are forms? What is the meaning of the word form? Now usually when we say form we have a kind of an image in our mind, this book has a form, this table has a form that means that there is a boundary, it has a beginning, it has an end that is our normal idea for form. But the essential idea of form is that which can be differentiated from the others, that which can be differentiated from the others. A form is a form because it can be differentiated from something else. Ideas are a peculiar kind of form which can be differentiated from something else which are not ideas. Take for example colours, sounds. Ideas are not colours, ideas are not sound they can be differentiated from sounds and colours therefore ideas can be distinguished, can be differentiated from sounds and colours therefore Plato calls ideas forms. Special kind of form is an idea, colour in another kind of form, sound is another kind of form. There are many kinds of forms of which ideas are one kind of form. There is one very interesting talk of the Mother where she says: 'As you rise higher you come to the realm of colours, you go beyond the realm of colours you come to the realm of sounds, you go beyond the realm of sounds then you come to the realm of ideas’. Ideas are nearest to Reality, ideas are forms nearest to Reality, if you go beyond ideas you have Reality, Existence you grasp Existence—the Real. So if you are actually travelling in the world beyond our ordinary existence in which we are all the time clogged, if we can liberate ourselves from our ordinary preoccupations and rise higher and higher you’ll come to the realm of colours then you’ll come to the realm of sounds then you’ll come to the realm of ideas and when you reach the topmost of the realm you get what is called ‘Real Idea’, Reality and Idea, Real Idea. The idea as it were strikes in the Reality, you have the Real Idea in which the idea is absolutely accurately described in Reality, no distortion at all. Idea is a form distinguished from the sound and colour that Idea symbolises exactly the Reality, no distortion, purely rational. Now the greatness of Plato was that he perceived even so many thousands of years ago that the great conception of Idea that is nearest to Reality, which can be called Real Idea. Real Idea has two special qualities. An idea reflects the reality accurately; it reflects the reality accurately, truthfully. And secondly it is the most universal, highest universal. This is the nature of Real Idea. Accurate expression of Reality and highest universality, the Reality is still beyond it actually because idea is only an expression of it; therefore Reality is described as transcendental. Ideas are universal, Real Idea is universal but that which is described that which is caught by the idea is transcendental, it transcends even the Idea. Reality transcends ideas, idea only reflects the Reality. So if you want to describe the Reality, the Pure Existent, we should say it is universal and beyond universal, it transcends. Reality is transcendental which is universal.

When you will read ‘The Life Divin’ this what I am saying just now will be very useful. We all have heard the word Supermind, all of us. We speak of the Supermind quite often. Now Sri Aurobindo has defined Supermind as Real–Idea, as Real–Idea, it’s another term for Supermind that Sri Aurobindo has given. Supermind is Real–Idea. Supermind accurately describes this is the Reality, no distortion at all and Supermind is universal, its Vast that is why Sri Aurobindo says is that Plato was in touch with the Supermind that is the greatness of Plato, he was in touch with the Supermind. The reason why I have selected Plato for you, why I am taking so much time on Plato with you is because it is a very good introduction to the idea of Supermind. You understand Supermind better when you have gone through this exercise of cattiness, chairness and gradually you rise into higher ideas of Truth, Beauty and Goodness and right to the Supreme Good and idea of the supreme Existence and then you connect Existence with Real–Idea. Plato is a very good introduction to Sri Aurobindo. If you understand Plato quite well, you can enter into the realm of Sri Aurobindo much more easily. Sri Aurobindo is very difficult because many people have not studied Plato and therefore they find it very difficult. But if you have done Plato quite well it is much easier for you to enter. We must remember that Supermind was discovered by the Vedic seers. You remember when I was talking about the Veda, I told you that supermind was discovered by the Vedic seers and I told you that the Veda describes Supermind in three words—Truth, the Right and the Vast, the Truth, the Right and the Vast. Vast is another word of universal, Vast in another term for universality. It is Truth because it expresses truly Reality, it is Right because when you have Truth and Vastness your action will be correct, right action. If you want that your action should be absolutely right action then you have to rise into the Supermind because then only the actions will be right, till that time we are all approximating. We can do the right action when we reach the supramental consciousness and we act on it that was the Vedic ideal, that was why they said to everybody: ‘Rise, climb, climb to the peaks, become more and more universal—vishwajanaya, vishwa means the universal, you generate yourself, be generated universality. Now this is the basic theory of Plato. I spoke at length on this subject because after this we shall be able to understand many things which are there in this paper much more easily. Now it will be like cantering and galloping into this paper easily. We shall do it tomorrow. Alright.