5.17.2010

Reflecting on Plato's "Allegory of the cave"


I was this candle that never burned
I was this piece of matter that exists in this universe without purpose
I was this drop of life that thought I breathe and therefore I am

 
There was a deep cave in the forest, a cave so dark with an entrance so small that no light managed to cross through the mouth of the cave to light up its walls inside. But something was strange about this cave for within its walls lived a group of people. They had lived there for many years with their hands tied and their faces to the wall that stood opposite to the mouth of the cave. This was their life, this is how they had always been, this is what they had been taught to do and this was how they existed. Every day the only awakening they had was the changing colors of the wall in front of them. It turned white in the early hours of the morning, moving to a bright yellow by noon and changing to a glowing orange by evening and then to inky blackness by night. And they were happy to live, in this familiar little world of known comforts to see these colors repeat themselves on the wall of the cave.

For some this was a common occurrence, for a few others it didn’t strike a chord at all but for one man in their midst, it was a growing miracle, that flowered every day and faded by night to bloom again in the morning. He was a romantic, a poet in his heart and though the others mocked at him, he sang to himself, certain that there was more to these miraculous colors but strange as it may sound, none of them ever turned to see the mouth of the cave to ever figure out what was really happening. They continued to live as they were, creating imaginary problems in their lives and solving them as they went along, the only assurance in their reality was the periodic change in the colors on the wall.

It was one such day, very normal to their lives as the white turned to yellow and then to a glow of orange. But strangely that night there was a burning glow of red on the wall instead of the inky blackness. This sent shock through all those within, leading to fear of the unfamiliar and horror over the change in regular pattern. The glow of red grew brighter and danced around the walls, leaving them puzzled wondering what kind of strange heavenly phenomenon could this be? Speculations ran wild, sentiments were hurt as people hurled fiery words at each other insisting that they were right but none of them even turned around to the mouth of the cave. And then there was peace, the deep red turned to the familiar inky blackness they were so comfortable with and they retired for the night.

The next day started again as always but by evening the burning orange gave way to the crimson red that leaped all over the walls increasing the fear of the people inside who wondered what magical phenomenon this was. But this time one of the men decided he would do what no one else dared. He believed in his miracle, he believed there was a God and he decided to dare and see what was at the mouth of the cave. What caught his eyes were the leaping flames of a breath taking fire, so bright and graceful as it climbed through the air in its glorious shades of color. He turned back in excitement, he couldn’t withstand the bliss he felt of having seen the glimpse of divinity at the entrance of the cave. He tried to explain the phenomenon to the others, that it was a leaping flame at the entrance of the cave but no one was ready to hear him and no one really wanted to know the secret of the glowing flames.

That evening and even stranger event occurred. As the cave dwellers got used to the glowing red, they were now comfortable to see its dancing hues of the wall and that event too was no more than an occurrence from the position it held as a miracle some time ago. But this night it was even weirder. As they continued to look up to the wall in all its glowing redness, there suddenly appeared stark black forms that sprang around the wall. They were fast, agile and sure footed, they barely stayed in one place, they flew faster than anyone to spot them in a single place. They were real and they grew larger and shrunk slowly and disappeared into the redness. The cave dwellers looked on again at the wall with horror, wondering what was going on. They feared the worst that all hell broke loose to come and grab them and vanquish them all.

And once again the same man decided to take a second change and turn to the mouth of the cave. This time he turned to see something even more spectacular. There was a group of beautiful women, so beautiful and so richly dressed, so graceful and so magical, he breathlessly looked on to seeing them float around the glowing flames dancing with its burning arms as if in an enigmatic embrace. Their bodies glowed in yellow gold, their skin shimmered in the red glow of the light as then enjoyed the moment of love and beauty while they hopped around the flames is such splendor. And then the inky blackness of the night shrouded this beautiful view he just had a glimpse of. He was too excited the next morning and tried to explain to the others in the cave, about the fire and the women. They called him mad, they thought he was insane and they mocked at him to make him a recluse, disowning him for his thoughts and for this excitement over things that never were real, that never took place for what they saw were giant beings on the wall and what he tried to explain was the shadows of damsels dancing around a fire. He was beaten by all, to have even shared such a wild imagination for no one believed in any such occurrence.

He didn’t give up, for he sang out loud, he burst into poetry to describe the women he had set his eyes on. He sang about the red glow, about the fire and about the graceful women who threw stark shadows on the wall. He was proclaimed mad and in a few days he was beaten for spreading such wild thoughts to scare the people and shake the peace in which they lived. He was considered a misfit and unanimously elected to be stoned to death. As be breathed his last, he sang out loud, describing how a damsel danced by the flames, only to have her golden gown catch fire and set herself ablaze and be swallowed by the same fire that threw the red glow on the walls.

Many days later, the men continued to live on, staring at the same wall that shined bright yellow again. But the red glow had long gone, long disappeared for it seemed uncanny that it faded the very same time the man breathed his last. There was eerie silence in the cave, as the rest of them continued to be, alone in their silence, uncomfortable with their existence. And then it happened, a strong wind blew and raised the dust in the cave. The wind was strong and forced them to bend low and close their eyes. And as the dust 
settled, they slowly opened their eyes to look up to the wall... a small piece of a golden cloth, half burnt and faded, flew along the wall to disappear into the inner darkness of the cave... 

They looked up at the wall and then into the darkness in shock.. and all they could remember were his last words as he died singing away...

I am the fire that burns this candle
I am the glow that give the diamond its life
I am the soul that leave this body
I am the truth you killed with all your might.

I am your only hope to salvation
I am that which you do not wish to seek
I am the free bird who dared to turn
I am the light that now leaves this cave.

* -*-*

Reflecting on the Allegory of the cave


The Allegory of the Cave, also commonly known as Myth of the Cave, Metaphor of the Cave, The Cave Analogy, Plato's Cave or the Parable of the Cave, is an allegory  used by the Greek philosopher Plato in his work The Republic to illustrate "our nature in its education and want of education". (514a) The allegory of the cave is written as a fictional dialogue between Plato's teacher Socrates  and Plato's brother Glaucon, at the beginning of Book VII in Benjamin Jowett's translation and in chapter IX in Robin Waterfield's translation(514a–520a).

Here's more on Plato's Allegory of the cave


10 comments:

JC said...

With the background that human life started from Cave Age, while apparently meditating in Himalayan caves and eventuqally coming to realise life on earth as illusory, resulting from Creator’s imagination, that is, His ‘Maya’ that is illusion (or projection of images as reflected in the make-believe world of cinema) has been communicated, perhaps in very simple words, in symbolic language though, by the ‘wise ancients’, or characters, who - in the ‘past’ or ‘bhoot’ (also meaning ‘ghost’) - apparently inhabited ‘India’, (the name for the world derived obviously from ‘Indu’, ie, ‘Moon’), who came to be known as ‘Hindus’... And the particular civilization as ‘Indus Valley Civilization’ after River Indus or ‘Sindhu’, which means Ocean, for they associated ‘water on earth’ with Moon: describing the Holy Ganges to have descended on earth from Moon after Bhagirithi Task!

The wise characters in the drama gave the highest pedestal to Moon (in the sky, as one of the members of our solar system and also the Guru or Superior One), and similarly to ‘man’ or mind within the human form, thus associating the Central Nervous System with River Ganga in the form of Suksamana Nadi (pronounced as ‘naadi’ to differentiate it with life giving water in the network of big and small rivers, or ‘nadi’, on earth’s surface…and realised 'man as the model of the universe, ie, the infinite void, reflected in physical form by primary (red, yellow, blue, and secondary colours (orange, green etc), as trapped withing gemstones too just as the soul is believed trapped within physical forms!

JC said...

'I' forgot to say that the presentation perhaps as per design - about realisation of 'Truth' by only a few among humans - in the video was nice!

JC said...

The 'wise' ancient philosophers in the 'west' apparently had access only to words for communicating with others what they thought of the 'Truth'. And as it's known even today about inferior animals also experiencing dreams, man must have been pondering since time immemorial over the phenomenon of appearance of dreams during sleep. And it is apparent that they didn't have all the technical tools now available to them and, therefore, to us also in the 'east', viz. cameras and projectors and so on that could help one to visualise better...And, perhaps understand better the concept of illusion or 'maya' conveyed by the wise ancients and relating it with Formless Creator's mind, or concentration of all energies and forms in a dot!

Rwitoja said...

An interesting post , Kavitha.We are all victims of a great illusion and only the The Mischievious One can rescue us with His Grace.

JC said...

Maybe one needs to read Chapter X of the Bhagawad Gita, 'between the lines', to reach in one's mind the Mischievous One, or 'Natkhat Nandlal' the 8th avatar of Vishnu / 8th son of Devki-Vasudev (with the background knowledge that earth is also called Vasudha (and 'the celestial serpent 'Vasuki Nag' believably used as rope for 'churning of the Milky-Ocean' perhaps indicates the movement of earth around its on axis), and maybe thus 'Devki' teh mother refers to Moon (Chandrama) the small and yet powerful and, therefore,' mysterious' heavenly body that believably evolved from Earth's, or Jambudweep's, bowel itself!

"Hari anant / Hari katha ananta...", said the 'wise ancients'...

JC said...

Who am I?

Maybe with the background knowledge that 'I' was once related with zero time and space, but being 'highly advanced technologically', 'I' am able to see eternally my temporal and spatial advancement, in steps, from absolute ignorance to perfection achieved in the past!

Although it had happened in no time! But, being 'apsmara purush' or persons that aren't able to recall memory, 'my images', although innumerable and in different animal forms, appear ignorant of the Absolute Truth'!

Kavitha said...

Who am I...

I detached from the things around me and I felt freedom
I detached from the people around me and I felt freedom
I detached from the fruits of my job and I felt freedom
I detached from the fear of living and I felt freedom
I detached from the consequences of life and I felt freedom...

If all this happens then no "I" exists...

Regards
Kavitha

JC said...

"I" is formless, unique, and alive! It alone is the spectator of its own innumerable images that appear and disappear periodically. What 'I' eternally seeks, in its own images, perhaps isn't known to itself!

charan said...

who am i?

im the one which has no relation ship with "mine"
i do not belong to mine but still iam belonging to all,
iam not mine but I......
if i can delete or detatch of so called "mine" then exists only "I"
I is me I is you and I is all......

JC said...

Yes, I Swayambhu, or the one who appeared on his own, exist alone in this infinite universe.

I know I am unborn, unending, and omnipotent, for I am related with zero time and space and, therefore, am formless! I can visualise it as my image in human form, living alone on a big island called Jambudweep!

I therefore visualise myself to multiply by dividing, like a bacterium appears to 'my images' to divide into two parts. And I name them respectively as immortal Shiva & Parvati, male and female born of the original Jambudweep in the plains, at Kashi on the banks of Ganga and of the Himalayas, also born from Jambudweep's womb and act as the source of Ganga!

And then visualise multiplying by addition and visualise Kartikeya and Ganesha as my sons, acting as my right and left hands respectively and to take over from me in filling up the blank void of the infinite universe! And thus remain occupied eternally!