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02/10/2012

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and Buddha’s Path to Enlightenment


The approaches of Plato’s Allegory of the Cave and Buddha’s Path to Enlightenment approach are similar to that of a medical doctor. First, they diagnose the disease, and then identify the root cause. Finally, they provide prescription for the cure for the suffering of humankind and to move towards the conceiving of wisdom. These two great philosophers believe that the universe is ultimately good and that individuals need enlightenment in making a better society.

Plato’s Allegory explains that the world as perceived by our senses is not the real world but only a copy of it, and that the real world can only be apprehended intellectually. He argues that the chained prisoners in the cave do not conceive the truth as they only see the shadows cast by objects behind them. Therefore, these prisoners are denied of wisdom that can be conceived on the upper world.

On the other hand Buddha discovered the Eightfold Path To Enlightenment is the only way to Nirvana. Buddha comes up with this because he sees the need to avoid the extreme of self-torture and self-indulgence among his people. He believes that extreme self-torture weakens ones intellect and the extreme of self-indulgence retards ones spiritual progress.

Plato makes an analogy in attaining wisdom. After presenting the conditions of the prisoners in the cave, Plato suggests that the prisoners must ascend from the dark cave to the upper world, to the world of knowledge. Plato illustrates that the journey upwards is the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world. At first, he might be unaccustomed to the bright sunlight but eventually, he would get used to it. Naturally, he would get confused, unable to identify the sources of the shadows he usually sees in the cave. But over time, learning would come automatically. After this, he must show compassion towards his fellow prisoners and not merely revel in his own happiness. However, the prisoner must detach himself from the false valuations and hierarchical distinctions made by the prisoners. Finally, he must re-enter the cave.

Plato believes that in the world of knowledge the idea of good when eventually seen is inferred as the universal author of all things that are beautiful and right, as the parent of light and of the lord of light in the visible world, and as the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual. Moreover, he believes that the idea of good is the power upon which one who would act rationally must have his eye fixed.

            In the Path to Enlightenment, Buddha believes that we must acknowledge the truth of life that life is suffering because of self-indulgence (Right Understanding), that we must purify our mind so as to benefit others (Right Thoughts), that we must speak only the truth by noticing how many times we do not do this (Right Speech). Moreover, the Path to Enlightenment teaches that people must develop a self-controlled character that is mindful of rights of others (Right Conduct), that we must earn our living in ways that do not bring harm to others (Right Livelihood), that we must exert effort in developing good conduct (Right Effort), that we must be aware of one’s deeds, words and thoughts (Right Mindfulness), and that we must meditate in order to focus our attention and penetrate delusion and craving (Right Concentration).

Similar to the Allegory, the Path to Enlightenment is based on knowledge and not on mere unreasonable belief, although it centers mainly on spirituality. Plato’s reasoning is more focused on the pursuit of learning and eventually wisdom through intellect. However, Plato believes that the power and capacity of learning exist in the soul already, and just as the eye was unable to turn from darkness to light without the whole body, so too it is only by the movement of the whole soul that the instrument of knowledge can be turned from the world of Becoming into that of Being, and can learn by degrees to endure the sight of the good and the true.

Buddha shares the same view on morality and conceiving wisdom. According to him, only the enlightened can only attain wisdom, and that these enlightened people has a big obligation for the betterment of their society. The same as that of Plato who believes that only the Philosopher- Kings (the truly wise) can rule.

 

Plato and Buddha believe in the presence of divine elements in achieving wisdom. According to Plato, the virtue of wisdom or of spiritual sight contains a divine element which is the identifying property or function of the soul. They also argue that sensual pleasures, drag down the soul but if the soul is released from earthly impediments, the faculty of seeing the truth comes into full play.

 

The Allegory of the Cave and the Noble Eightfold Path to Enlightenment, in summary, presents the chaotic societies in Plato’s and Buddha’s respective times, when mankind seeks salvation. Plato points out that injustices occur because of the lack of pursuit of knowledge. Whereas Buddha believes that individuals suffer because of extreme self-indulgence. Both argues that to have a better society, individuals must pursue wisdom.

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