A while ago I sat on the back porch and witnessed an amazing sunset. The trees framed vibrant colors in a select location, almost as if it were done on purpose just as a special gift to me. I could sense the difference of coming from the place of being a part of everything, intimately connected in every way, versus perceiving oneself as separate from everything and continually being acted upon by the environment. The former brings a sense of peace and joy while the latter brings a sense of pain and suffering. The difference is quite profound.
Upon reflection, I realized that I was in a state of awe as I was gazing upon the sun setting in the frame of the trees. I realized for the first time what is meant by “fear God,” which can be translated as to revere or be in awe of God. In this state of awe we can sense our place in the totality of existence. Interestingly, if we were actually to “fear” God, then we would be coming from the place of separation for we would see “God” as something outside of us that could do us harm if we didn’t “follow the rules” set forth by religious rhetoric.
In their translation of The Last Days of Socrates, Tredennick and Tarrant posited that Socrates (according to Plato) viewed the opposites as “wetter and dryer” rather than simply “wet and dry” as was the view in the pre-Socratic days. In turn, what is wetter must have at some point been dryer and vice versa. Therefore, in order to become “wetter” the object must take on the qualities of its opposite. To me, this view adds credence to the concept of oneness. Keep in mind that Socrates never wrote. Therefore, his views were expressed primarily in the writings of Plato and Xenophon.
Socrates suggested that opposites always come from one thing and cites sleeping and waking as an example. In addition, he posited that it is the process of sleeping or waking that created the opposites. Further, he suggested if this is true of all things it must also be true for the opposites of birth and death. Interestingly, this thought created an “aha” moment for me yet I cannot put to words what that aha was.
Discovering is Remembering
When I experienced the “aha” moment described above the thought occurred to me that it seemed more like a recollection than a new discovery. In other words, we remember what we already knew as in “Oh yeah, now I remember!” Is it not true that “aha” and “oh yeah” both feel exactly the same?
In discussing the “Theory of Recollection,” Socrates suggested that it is evidence of the immortal soul because in order to recollect something it must have previously been known. Therefore, if one were to recollect something from a previous life then the soul must have been alive once before.
Socrates went on to suggest that if the living come from the dead and vice versa, then the soul must indeed exist. He suggested that this must be true or else go against the law of nature of opposites. To support his view that the individual soul not only exists, but is immortal, Socrates stated, “…if generation were a straight path to the opposite extreme without any return to the starting point… in the end, everything would have the same quality and reach the same state, and change would cease altogether.”
I have read many examples of individuals knowing things of past people said to be in their previous lives that they couldn’t possibly know any other way. However, to me, this theory gives as much credence to the “One Great Soul Theory” as it does to the “Individual Soul Theory” because one might be tapping into the “One” to gain access to this knowledge. Indeed, I have often heard that there is such a thing as “Universal Knowledge” and some people can access this at will. Further, I was discussing this topic with a friend who said she personally knew people who could know exactly what a person was doing, saying, and thinking in that moment merely by thinking of the individual. To me, this gives more support to the One Soul Theory. In addition, it gives credence to the statement “I am that.”
Socrates takes us through a journey to find the truth of the existence of an immortal soul by using the theory of opposites and the theory of recollection. In turn, we are compelled to consider how wisdom and understanding cannot be seen or captured by any of the physical senses. The objects of discernment that can be captured by the physical senses are temporal, as to have a quality such as beauty it must have been something else, yet beauty itself stands alone and is, therefore, permanent and unchanging. In other words, the object must have an opposite to say it is anything yet that “anything” itself has no opposite. Socrates suggested that it is the soul that knows of the thing in relation to itself and gets confused when entering the mind and attempts to explain it through the duality of the senses.
The Permanent Nature of the Soul
Socrates posited, “When the soul and the body share the same place, nature teaches the one to serve and be subject, the other to rule and govern.” He then asked which of these resemble the divine? The master then went on to pose the question, if the soul is more like the indivisible divine nature of reality, which is more likely, that it will be blown to pieces when it leaves the body or remain intact? Using logic and reason one would have to deduce that the soul is likely to be permanent. Socrates seems to be stating here what I have said previously, let go of the ego and experience the authentic self (i.e., soul).
Socrates referred to the fact that swans sing “more loudly and sweetly” than ever before when they know they are about to die. This seems to be where the “swan’s song” phrase came from to describe a final hurrah. According to Socrates, they sing this way because they know they are about to meet their maker and are experiencing joy in that moment about that prospect. I have often heard stories of near death experiences in which the individual sees a light and describes it as “beyond beautiful.” Moreover, those that have said they have experienced “the other side” have also said they desperately wanted to stay there. To me, this points to the permanent nature of the authentic self or “soul.”
In the dialog Simmias explains why he feels Socrates’ discussion on the immortality of the soul is inadequate and fails to take the attunement theory into account. According to the authors the “attunement theory” states that the soul is responsible for harmonizing the body bringing it life, unity, and perception and allowing it to function properly.
Simmias explained that the attunement theory has the soul analogous to attunement of a string instrument in that it is invisible and incorporeal while the strings and the instrument itself are corporeal. He posited that the concept theorizes the “soul, being a balance of physical constituents is the first thing to be destroyed by what we call death.” Earlier Simmias stated, “the body is held together at a certain tension between the extremes of hot and cold, dry and wet, and so on, and our soul is a balance or attunement of these same extremes, when they are combined in just the right proportion.” To me, this seems to go along with the idea of the “middle way.”
However, I would suggest that because the “soul” or authentic self is the energy that “holds the body together,” it cannot be destroyed when the body dissolves. It seems this is the view Socrates was taking as well.
Belief Comes First
Indeed, Socrates was saying that the idea of “Beauty” exists before or presupposes the thing that is beautiful. Basically, this seems to be saying that the idea comes before the object or that consciousness comes before the material world. This is far different than the belief that it is the things of the world, coming together in the right way that creates conscious intelligence.
Socrates went on to state, “Then we were saying that opposite things come from opposite things; now we are saying that the opposite itself can never become opposite to itself – neither the opposite which is in us nor that which is in nature.” Many past sages agree with Socrates and have stated that God has no opposites. I am contending that similarly, the authentic self has no opposite. Rather than being its antipode, the psychological self points us toward the authentic self. However, in order for it to do that, we must see it as such. Otherwise it is just as likely to lead us away from it.