PLATO’S CAVE: The Universe Within

“For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” -Luke 17:21

In Plato’s classic The Republic he gives a beautiful analogy for how we relate to and understand the world we live in. He tells his pupils of a cave where an ogre ties up a few prisoners. Their heads are stuck facing a wall with a giant fire burning behind them. A pathway runs between them and the fire. As figures cross this pathway they see shadows dancing on the wall in front of them. Having painted this picture Plato begins his speculations:

  • Wouldn’t the prisoners mistake the reflections dancing on the wall as the real versions?
  • Wouldn’t they come to accept their view as the only way to see reality?
  • What would happen if one managed to escape?

Our escapee would undoubtedly note the figures scurrying back and forth along the path between the fire and prisoners on the way out of the cave. Once outside they’d discover a whole new world and how realize hw backwards their entire view had been. Plato speculates that upon seeing the brightness of the sun they’d probably shield their eyes before retreating back into the cave to tell the others what they discovered.

Let’s do some speculating of our won:

  • How would the friends of our escaped prisoner react?
  • Would they be accepting of his new truth?
  • Will the message simply be written off as madness?
  • Does the language to explain these revelations even exist?
  • What will be said of our escapee 100 years after the fact?

Yes. In Plato’s typical paradoxical fashion our hero goes outside to look within. This can be likened to the mirror in Alice In Wonderland as well. Understand, the cave represents the physical world of the senses and our philosopher/escapee is stepping into the dazzling radiance of the mind. Like all the great mystics wishing to help our philosopher really, really wants his friends freed from their limited thinking. Mysticism begs us to open up our extra-sensory perception to the world beyond the physical realm.

How does one go about freeing themselves from captivity according to Plato?

Greek philosophy unearthed a treasure trove of studies that deal in abstract thought from geometry to the movement of celestial bodies and even harmonics- the study of sound and vibration. See, Plato believed the real power of al these disciplines lies in their ability to move the soul out of the ever changing world of the senses into the eternal world of the mind. He saw the abstract as a gateway through which our souls connect to the Divine.

Mystics from all cultures have always agreed that true spirituality applies a sort of backwards logic, at least at first. The world we experience doesn’t exist as it seems and only the inner-self can awaken to the true nature of reality. What all this means is the interior life has to be experienced first hand as it is nearly impossible to explain the profound espiritual experiences one enjoys along the way.

I first discovered meditation by reading a book by Bo Lozoff titled We’re All Doing Time while, in fact, serving time in TDCJ (the Texas prison system). My initial reaction was totally self motivated as I was simply looking for a way to escape the harsh realities of prison life. I had no idea how much change I would undergo in the years that followed afterwards. In many ways I owe my life, and the peace I’ve discovered since then, to the very mistakes that I believed had ruined my life. God truly does work in mysterious ways.

That’s what happens when we have a mystical experience. By looking within ourselves we find our place in the world. Sometimes all we have to do to hear God speak is shut up and be still.

“To drink the interior life in a long draft is to see the higher life. He who discovers the interior, discovers what’s in space.”

-Michael Maier

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