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  The teachings of Plato on Education: A parallelism with Swami’s teachings on Educare

Part 2


After the virtues of the true philosopher have been mentioned, Plato leads us to the highest point, the knowledge of Goodness (Sivam). Righteousness, bravery, self control and all the other virtues are indeed very important, but still there is something higher. This is the idea of Goodness, God Himself, who is like the Sun whose rays are the virtues.

“There is absolutely no point in having expert knowledge of everything else, but lacking knowledge of Goodness. There is absolutely no advantage in owning everything else in the world, but not Goodness” (505a-b).

That is what every soul yearns and makes every effort to own. Many people are in the dark about it, but we cannot allow the best members of our community, the ones to whom we are going to entrust everything, to be equally in the dark. But what is Goodness?

Socrates professes himself incapable of defining Goodness and proposes a simile instead, the simile of the Sun. Just as the sun is the source of light and growth and is responsible for sight and seeing and is the acme of the visible realm, so Goodness is the source of Truth and reality and is responsible for knowledge of all ideas in the invisible world of higher intellect. To give a clear image of Goodness, Plato introduces here the famous allegory of the cave (514a – 518b):

“Imagine people living in a cave down under the ground; at the far end of the cave there’s an entrance open to the outside world. They’ve been there since childhood, with their legs and necks tied up in a way that keeps them in one place and allows them to look only straight ahead, but not to turn their heads. There is firelight burning a long way further up the cave behind them, and up the slope between the fire and the prisoner there’s a road and beside it a low wall. Imagine also that there are people on the other side of this wall, who are carrying all sorts of objects, that stick out over the wall; and some of these people talk and others are silent. Do you think these prisoners would see anything of themselves, of one another or of the objects except the shadows cast by the fire on to the cave wall directly opposite them, since they are forced to live without moving their heads? And if they were able to talk to one another, don’t you think they would assume that their words applied to what they saw passing by in front of them? And if sound echoed off the prison wall opposite them, when any of the passers-by spoke, they would assume that the sound came from a passing shadow. All in all then, the shadows of the objects would constitute the only reality people inside would recognize.

Picture1What would happen if they were set free from their bonds and cured of their ignorance? Imagine that one of them is suddenly made to stand up, to turn his head and walk and to look towards the firelight. It hurts him to do all this and he is too dazzled to be capable of making out the objects whose shadows he had formerly been looking at. And if someone tells him that what he’s been seeing all this time has no substance and now he is seeing more accurately, what do you think his reaction would be? And if he were shown any of the passing objects and he were asked what it was, he would be bewildered. He would think that there was more reality in what he had been seeing before than in what he is seeing now. And if he were forced to look at the firelight it would hurt his eyes and he would turn away and run back to the shadows. He would think that the shadows are clearer than the real objects. And if someone drugged him forcibly and pulled him out into the sunlight he would not be able to see a single one of the real things, because his eyes would be overwhelmed by the sun’s beams. He wouldn’t be able to see things up on the surface of the earth until he had got used to the sunlight. At first, it would be shadows that he could most easily make out, then he would move on to the reflections in water and later he would be able to see the actual things themselves. Next, he would turn his eyes on the heavens, easier at night and he would look at the light of the stars and the moon. And at last he would be able to discern and turn his eyes on the sun during day time. After that he would realize that the sun is the source of the seasons and the yearly cycle; that the whole of the visible realm is its domain and that everything that he used to see is caused by the Sun. And if he recalled the cave where he had originally lived and his former fellow prisoners, he would feel happy about his new situation and sorry for them. And if he went back underground and sat down again in the same spot, his eyes would be overwhelmed by darkness, because of the sudden transition from the sunlight. And if he had to compete against those same old prisoners at identifying those shadows, they would call him a fool.. They would say that he had come back from his upward journey with his eyes ruined and that it wasn’t even worth trying to go up there. And if anyone tried to set them free and take them up there, they would grab hold of him –if they could- and kill him.

You should apply this allegory, to what we were talking about before. The region that is accessible to sight should be equated with the prison cave and the firelight there with the light of the sun. You should think of the upward journey and the sight of things up on the surface of the earth as the mind’s ascent to the spiritual realm. The last thing to be seen in the spiritual realm is Goodness; and the sight of Goodness leads one to realize that This is responsible for everything that is right and fine. In the visible realm Goodness is the progenitor of light and the source of light and in the spiritual realm, Goodness is the source and provider of Truth and Knowledge. The sight of It is a prerequisite for Righteousness either in one’s private affairs or in public business".

(Republic, 514a – 517c)


After this wonderful allegory of the cave and the description of the upward journey of the Soul towards Goodness, Plato defines that this is exactly the goal of education. He says:

Picture2“Education is not putting knowledge into a soul which doesn’t have it, just as giving sight into eyes that are blind. The capacity of knowledge is present in everyone’s soul. And just as an eye turns from darkness to light, the soul has to turn away from the world of becoming towards the Being Itself until it becomes capable to see the Brightest Reality, which we call Goodness. That’s what Education should be, the art of orientation. Educators should devise the simplest and most effective methods to turn the mind towards the Light. Not to implant sight in it, because it already has the capacity, but to correct its orientation, because it is now improperly aligned and is not facing the right way”

(Republic, 518c – d)

As Swami very simply says:

“Education should not be information
Education should be transformation”

The ascent of the soul towards the Being starts with music and gymnastics as we saw earlier. But for the completion of the journey to Goodness higher education is needed. The philosophers must study arithmetic, geometry, solid geometry, astronomy and harmony. Finally after the mind has been sharpened through them, it is ready for the highest subject, that is dialectic. Maybe we could ask here how these subjects that deal with the world of becoming, can help in the spiritual ascent of the Soul towards Being?

“The study of these subjects purifies the organ of higher intellect that everyone has, while other occupations ruin it and blind it. This organ is a thousand times more precious than any eye, since this is the only organ that can see Truth” (527e).

The real science is not the science of the mundane world but spirituality, the science of the Being beyond time and space. How can the previous subjects help in this science? Plato says about astronomy:
“There is nothing in the visible realm that is more beautiful than these decorations in the sky. But since they are within the visible realm, they should be regarded as considerably inferior to true decorations, to true Beauty… Therefore, we should use the heavenly decorations merely as illustrations to help us study the invisible realm of the Divine… If we don’t ignore the heavenly bodies, we’ll never be engaged in true astronomy and we’ll never develop our soul’s innate intelligence”

(Rep. 529c – 530b).

We see that for Plato the real benefit of the study of the material world is not to remain trapped in the external vision, but to be awakened to the Divine Reality that lies beyond the worldly phenomena. The aim is to see with the inner eye of wisdom the Divine Beauty that lies behind the external beauty. To reach at the highest top and to see Goodness Itself, the last subject is dialectic.
Dialectic is the highest faculty of discrimination between what is real and what is unreal, what is permanent and what is transient. (Dialectic = Viveka)

“He who uses dialectic with absolutely no use of the senses, reaches the summit of the spiritual realm. He grasps with his intellect the Idea of Goodness Itself, just as the prisoner of the cave ends up at the supreme point of the visible realm, that is the Sun” (532a – b)
“Dialectic uproots the things that now are taken for granted and leads towards the Primary Cause. It gently extracts the mind’s eye from the mud in which it is now buried and guides it upwards.” (533d)
“So dialectic occupies the highest position and is the copestone of the curriculum. There is no subject higher than this and therefore dialectic completes our educational program.” (534e)

Until now we saw in brief the educational program that Plato establishes in an ideal community. This is exactly the same with the one that Bhagavan Baba has established all over the world with the program of Education in Human Values.
The foundation of this program is Self-confidence, that is the strong faith in the spiritual nature of man, the Picture3faith that his real self is the Divine Self, Atma, who indwells in the vehicle of body and mind. The purpose of the ideal education is to remind to man this Divine Nature of his.

To reach this Divine End, man has to build the mansion of his life with the walls of Self-satisfaction, that means to learn to draw happiness from his inner Self. Then he has to build the roof of self-sacrifice; when he is established in his real spiritual Self, then he can sacrifice outer things for the welfare of his fellow beings. Finally, in this mansion the Light of Self-realization, the Light of Goodness, will shine.


Many times Swami in His discourses speaks about Socrates, Plato and Aristotle. Here is an extract from a discourse delivered by Bhagavan Sri Satya Sai Baba to the faculty and students of Sri Satya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, Prashanti Nilayam.

“Socrates used to follow the path of Pariprasna – asking questions and answering them. This encouraged the whole youth. What are the characteristics of a ruler? What good qualities and habits should he have? What morals should he follow? What type of devotion should he have? He used to inquire in all these things. He made the youth think about these things and finally it was decided that the person without these qualities was not fit to be a ruler. He should have love for God. It was decided that the youth should fight for the country. The rulers of his time were very annoyed about this, hence decided to sentence Socrates to death. Good always faces obstacles like this. The decision was final. Nobody could change it. Socrates decided it was better to die in the hands of his devotees rather than in the hands of the rulers.

Picture4The first disciple of Socrates was Plato. Plato was a very mighty person. Plato tried to spread the teachings of Socrates all over the world. He preached that for this world three things are important and necessary: Truth, Goodness and Beauty. What is Beauty? Beauty is not related to the body. Selflessness is beauty. A person who works selflessly is the most beautiful one. These three are also called Nischala (steadiness), Nirmala (purity) Nisvartha (selflessness).

Aristotle, the disciple of Plato had good acquaintance with Indian culture. He took those three words of Plato and reformed them as Satyam Sivam and Sundaram. He taught to the world that Satyam (Truth), Sivam (Goodness) and Sundaram (Beauty) are very important. These three are the teachings of Satya Sai also. Satyam: speak truth, Sivam: mangalam (auspiciousness). What is auspiciousness? Selflessness is auspiciousness. If anything is selfish, it becomes amangalam (inauspicious). Then comes Sundaram: Beauty. When will anything be beautiful? Anything will be beautiful when there is no trace of attachment. Plato developed all these things. When a country is developed like this, then people can enjoy the fruits of this. The culture that Plato and others followed is also Bharathiya culture.”


Part 1

Source: Radio Sai E-Magazine 1st May 2004


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