Plato and Buddhism

1 January 2017

Plato used an idea called the cave allegory to show how humans are ignorant. Before I explain a real life example, I will explain the Idea. In the cave there are prisoners. These prisoners cannot move because they are restrained by chains. The only thing that they can see is a wall that illuminated by a great light. This light is actually a fire behind them, which has a low sitting wall in between itself and the prisoners.

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As men walk below the wall holding up objects made out of every type of materials and in all sorts of shapes, the shadows of these shapes are placed on the wall in front of the prisoners. The low wall serves as a sort of “stage” or “blind” that keeps the men hidden and allows only the shadows to be illuminated onto the wall for the prisoners. The prisoners have known nothing other than the cave and its wall of shadows. While these prisoners have been watching the wall of shadows they have been able to hear the low talking of the men passing by the low wall.

Knowing no better they have associated the noises to the shadows. To the prisoners the truth is only the wall and its shadows. At one point a teacher releases one of the prisoners and lets him up to show him his surroundings of the cave. When the prisoner looks around at the actual objects that create the shadows he is rather confused, and feels that the shadows are the truer of the objects because those are the things he has always known. The teacher then lead the prisoner up to the surface and out of the cave.

When the teacher and the prisoner reach the world the prisoner is held fast until the pain of the light and confusion are overcome by his understanding of these visions. The prisoner would then first see the shadows, but then slowly he would see all things in their reality. As he starts to see the objects of physical reality he would soon see his reflection in water, the stars and moon in the sky and the sun hanging in their places. This will lead the man who was once a prisoner to contemplate many things, but he will eventually contemplate himself.

No sooner would the prisoner start to think about himself then he would begin to think about his fellow prisoner still in the cave, and he would feel pity for them. For his fellow prisoners are still believing what they see, and what he once thought as well, as being reality. Meanwhile those in the cave have a reward system that will give a crown to the prisoner who recognizes and remembers the shadows the best. The man who was once a prisoner would no longer envy for this crown, since he now knows the simplicity and sad truth to the physical cave.

The former prisoner would rather suffer than live a life under the false truths of the cave. The former prisoner ventures down to his fellow prisoners to help enlighten them as to the nature of things as they truly are. When the former prisoner would speak of these things to the prisoners they would think him mad and laugh outright at him. The prisoners would ridicule the former prisoner, and if he would be caught trying to release one of the prisoners, they would put him to death for trying to release one of them.

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