Plato (not his birth name, but a nickname meaning ‘broad’) was born in Athens, around 427 BC. He was a masterful writer and offered us a way of life founded on mathematics, science, philosophy and religion as one, that still inspires us today.
Plato himself was inspired by his teacher, Socrates and by the Pythagoreans. He is said to have founded the Academy in Athens, the first known university, from which our word ‘academic’ comes. However, it is also well known that similar if not deeper philosophical schools existed well before his time. In essence, Plato was attempting to honour and thus follow a school like Pythagoras many years earlier and by that honouring, a lineage of such schools that dated back to ancient Persia and older yet in ancient Egypt.
Plato was born Aristocles, son of Ariston, one of the wealthy Greek aristocrats and a member of the ruling class of the day. Plato was born into a life of wealth, privilege and power, but in his later years was exiled, imprisoned and perhaps even sold into slavery. He ended his life a bitter and disillusioned man, who had given up on the people and world he adored.
So what can we learn from his life?
The life of Plato
Plato’s father died when he was young, and his mother Perictione married her uncle (which must have been odd, even in those days!).
Socrates, his teacher, whom he admired and adored, was put to death by the Athenian ‘democracy’ when Plato was 28, after which devastating event, Plato along with a group of other students of Socrates, went on a journey to find a deeper meaning in life, perhaps to try and make sense of this loss. He travelled from Athens to Italy where he studied in the Pythagorean schools, Sicily and Egypt where he studied the arts of healing. Eventually Plato returned to Athens to establish the Academy.
Later in life he became embroiled in the politics of Syracuse, Sicily, in a vain attempt to develop the philosopher-ruler he wrote of in the Republic. Several visits were made, none of which ended well, and Plato was helped by friends on more than one occasion to escape with his freedom and his life.
He ended his days at the Academy, further embittered by the betrayal by his friend and student, Aristotle.
Why so bitter? Plato took it personally. He wanted so much for people to know and live the truth, and took it as a personal affront when people rejected the truth and him, being unwilling to allow free will to play out, as it will. He loved people and life, and could not stand to see people suffer. He turned towards them in their misery – in the process turning his back on God, whom he adored.
The works of Plato
Plato’s works are written with a playful wit and profound wisdom, for which he is dearly loved still today.
It has been said that Western philosophy consists of a series of footnotes to Plato, but what would Plato have thought of what we have done with this ancient wisdom? For Plato, philosophy was a way of life, which was lived in perfect harmony with religion, science, astronomy, mathematics and medicine as one. He saw the beauty, the wonder and the majesty of Nature and God in everything, and shared this in a way that made it accessible for us all. He wrote of what Leonardo was later to embody, when he said: “It is easy, being a universal man.”
In Plato, the two traditions of Socrates and the Pythagoreans come together. All but one of Plato’s works (the Timaeus) were lost to the Western world until medieval times, preserved in the Library of Alexandria and then by Muslim scholars in the Middle East.
Plato’s earlier works are generally regarded as the most reliable of the ancient sources on Socrates, and the Socrates that we know through these writings is considered to be one of the greatest of the ancient philosophers.
Plato’s middle to later works, including his most famous work, the Republic, offer Plato’s own philosophy, where the main character speaks for Plato himself.
The Republic offers us a way of living that is orderly, harmonious and responsible, where we work together for the common good, and in which our rulers first attain mastery over themselves before trying to rule over others. He also shows us that there is a universal mind, that anyone can access.
In his Allegory of the Cave, found in The Republic, Plato shows us that we live largely in a world of shadows, unaware of the power of the world of Soul, the light that lies beyond the world of senses.
What can we learn from Plato?
Plato connects us to the Divine, and the divine in everyday life.
Plato wrote that in our essence each is an immortal Soul, that incarnates through many bodies. For Plato, and the entire Pythagorean tradition from which he drew his inspiration, the Soul’s first principle was mathematical, the divine vibration of universal principle in number that orders the universe. Plato described the Soul as the idea of vital breath that spread spherically in all directions and encloses the body on all sides in a circle.
Plato shows us that the world is not what it seems, that beyond what we see is the true reality. We take the maya of God, his magic, his creative outpouring, for reality. We are meant to celebrate this for what it is, but we have taken it as the ultimate reality, through our belief that this is the only life, and that our needs are for us. Our responsibility is first to ourselves, but then our responsibility is far greater than ourselves.
The life of Plato is a great cautionary tale.
When Plato wrote the Republic, he was sure that people would understand it and be inspired to live it, and he could not believe that they would not choose the truth, when presented with it so clearly and lovingly. Ironically, in the face of their rejection and indifference, he then gave up on himself and on the truth that he knew.
Free will has to be honoured – if we do not allow people to make their own choices, we are not honouring God and them, and this will be our downfall.
When we are truly connected to God, we cannot but be in the world, but we must be in the world, but not of it, learning to observe and understand life and people, without getting caught up in and taking on the madness that goes on here on earth.
In living a true life, there is a balance to be lived here on earth.
Often in our personal lives, there is a struggle to live this balance. If we invest too much in people and life, we get hooked by the investment; if we sympathise with people, we enjoin and lose ourselves. If we disconnect from people and life, we become too self-absorbed.
This balance is something we constantly have to work at, and this requires loving self-discipline and consistency in our way of living; the balance between action and renunciation, that then gives us the yoga of wisdom. When these principles are combined and made essential i.e. made the simple footing of one’s foundation, we have the basis for what is known as an esoteric life.
Plato writes about the different elements in us coming into balance, and through that balance comes access to the world of the divine.
In him, the balance is achieved through coming into order, an order that is very Pythagorean – a universal, divine, harmonious joy.
Plato wrote much about discipline and order, but in his work this is actually a joyful thing – to reconnect to God and the divine order and harmony of the universe – living in such a way that your life is in accord with the order of the Cosmos: as above, so below.
If you offer anything other than the purity of love and beingness, you will be reflected what you are offering. Plato came with an investment, an attachment, and was reflected this by the force of reaction, rejection, indifference.
So the true lesson of the cave was the reflection – “If I can see that, where is it coming from?” – and if we are willing to always ask this question, we will always be reflected the truth.
What we are reflected in every moment offers us a pathway back to the past, and forward to the future.
This article was developed with my great friends Serge Benhayon, William Foley and Charles Wilson into the article that can now be read on Unimed Living as part of the series on The Lineage of The Ageless Wisdom: