Saturday, 5 September 2009

32 Socrates was killed because he believed in the improvement of the soul

I’m reading The Apology of Socrates at the moment. It’s a dramatised version of a real event-the trial of Socrates, the outcome of which was his execution.

Socrates was openly gay [as was his pupil Plato]. He was accused of being a worshiper of false Gods and a corrupter of the youth of Athens. In his defence he states that the charges are trumped up by 3 of his enemies. He is an old man in his seventies and he acknowledges that he has made many enemies over the years but never deliberately. However in his quest for those who might be wiser than him, [and he, himself believed that he was in no way wise but the Oracle of Delphi had proclaimed him to be the wisest of all men], he has systematically debunked the pretended wisdom of those who have been willing to present themselves to his scrutiny. And none have taken kindly to the humiliation of the exercise!

He says that if the outcome of the trail is that he is released on condition that he should desist with his teaching then he would prefer to die

‘I shall never cease from…exhorting anyone whom I meet…saying…why do you…care so much about laying up the greatest amount of money and honour and reputation and so little about wisdom and truth and the greatest improvement of the soul which you never regard or heed at all?’

‘…Fear of death is indeed the pretence of wisdom and not real wisdom, being the appearance of knowing the unknown, since no one knows whether death, which they in their fear apprehend as the greatest of evil, may not be the greatest good’

So what is this soul, the improvement of which Socrates was prepared to die for?

I had a discussion recently with a young friend of mine about the possibility that I might be reborn as a tree


He was exasperated that a sentient, intellectually able individual such as myself might believe in the concept of the soul. It was only after much coaxing and cajoling that he was prepared to say that IF it were possible to be reborn [and this was a massive IF, relying as it did on a totally irrational and fallacious concept], then he might like to be reborn as a whale! During our debate it was clear that he drew no distinction between his intellect/thinking and who he was as a being. He literally believed that He Thought Therefore He Was. ‘My thinking is my being’

I was trying to get him to explore what happens when thinking is ‘turned down’ as for instance during the act of meditation. What happens before the development of formal operational thinking in a young child?

For me there is a clear duality in my being –the thoughts that I have and the being that I am. The thoughts and actions I am engaged in may be tools of expression for my soul or may be a chattering distraction from who I am. To imagine that my thoughts and actions constitute who I am would be like saying that the computer VDU screen IS the computer and that when it is switched off the computer no longer exists!

Ok so my advice for this week- for the improvement of your soul- is to demonstrate to yourself fist of all that it exists. Experiment a little with your thoughts and see if you can just turn them down. Take some time out, maybe 5 or 10 minutes and say ‘I will see what happens when I let go of my thinking’. Make sure that you won’t be disturbed. Find somewhere to sit comfortably. Close your eyes and imagine a very large tree by the side of a gently flowing river. As a thought arises in your mind imagine that it is a leaf on the tree falling into the river and being carried away. Each new thought becomes a falling leaf and is carried away.

Now ask: Did you cease to exist just then or was your existence enhanced? 

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