Monday, March 24, 2014

"Dialectic" - as a process of discovery

One of the greatest passages in the world of Western literature is the scene which describes the poisoning of Socrates, the Philosopher, by the republic of Athens. It figures in "Phaedo", one of the celebrated dialogues of Plato, his disciple and expositor. Socrates was spreading a dangerous message – Gnothi Seauton: “Know thyself” to the youth of a nascent, virile young city state of Greece, and needed to be silenced by the democratic polity. He was gathering around him the wisest, the most intelligent youngsters like Phradeus, Xenophon, and Aristophanes and of course Plato himself: urging them to question the ‘questioner’; and that is never good news for a political system. Socrates was to be administered the poison of Hemlock, a potent infusion that would slowly numb the body from the foot upwards until the heart stops beating. Plato renders those final moments in the eventide hours of spring time Athens, when Socrates prepares himself meticulously to die, without the least trace of agony, anguish or hesitation on his face. All around him, he beloved students have congregated, trying to postpone this tragic moment, but Socrates emphasizes to them the evanescence of this material body and the Indifference of its presence to him. He takes the cup of poison from the trembling hands of the jailer and swallows it all at once. The powerful drug slowly anesthetizes his body and he lays down on the stone bench without a word of remonstrance from his lips. His disciples cry and weep with despair, but Socrates gently reprimands them for their childish behavior. His last words to Crito will go down forever in history as a testimony of a man who has anchored himself in the depths of his true self; as the malicious poison reaches his heart, he opens his eyes for one last time and speaks to Crito thus: “I have one debt to clear, would you be kind enough to repay the cock that I borrowed from my neighbor Asclepius...” and with that the Master gently passes away. Never before in the Western philosophy has there been such a clear voice for truth. The life of Socrates inaugurated a period of self-introspection in Greek thought, which wound its way into the fabric of European culture and its religion - Christianity.
The fascinating Orient was not far behind, in fact, they were far ahead in the ‘dialectic’ method that Socrates used to educate and question the source of beliefs and ethics. The Upanishads -that great repository of pure, untrammeled and distilled juice of introspective brilliance, are replete with dialogues that spark of intellectual vitality and deep concerns. Probably, they do not possess as dramatic a setting as that of Plato’s dialogues, but they definitely contain all the nourishment and rigor of a questioning mind. Take for example, The mystically pregnant dialogues between Yagnavalkya and his illustrious wife Maitreyi under the silent canopy of forest trees, in the Brhadaranyaka Upanishad; or the precocious conversation between young Svetaketu and his father in the open air classroom on the nature of “Self”, in the Chandogya - they are shimmering examples of the heights reached by penetrative Indian minds in attempting to solve the dilemma of “truth”. And, of course, the profound poem of Bhagavad Gita is nothing but a dialogue between a master and his Student. It will not a falsity to state that the East had trodden over this hallowed ground much before the West awoke to this knowledge of inner science...
It is recorded that Plato travelled far and wide after the demise of his Mentor, and it is not impossible that his journeys also took him to the boundaries of Asia Minor, where he witnessed ancient mystics of India talk, breathe and live a philosophy that was just about beginning to take root in Grecian city states. It is also not improbable that he borrowed the method of “dialogue” as a vehicle to convey and question profound truth from the soil of East. Whatever may be the origins or the impetus for Human thought, there is no doubt that there is continuity in the process of enquiry. Certain questions have always bothered the Human mind across continents, across civilizations; and curiously, the answers to those queries have come about in a similar manner. The aches, the pains, the agonies, the exultation, the sacrifices - seems to have a design to it that escapes the common peripheries of our thinking. Socrates and Plato and the great Mystics of the East are just channels through which Cosmic will and thought reinforces itself. They are the watersheds, the sign posts for all of us to grow in the right direction...
Read these dialogues in the translations available, when you have time. Nothing may be more important than this….
God bless…

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