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[Book Review] The Dialogues of Plato - Symposium, The Apology, Phaedo by Plato

— Created: Xiaoke, 2018/08/30 00:00 CST
— Last modified: Xiaoke, 2018/08/30 00:00 CST

What I read is not the complete dialogues of Plato, but three of them: Symposium, the Apology, and Phaedo, translated by W.H.D. Rouse. Each of these dialogues has its own theme, symposium dedicated to Eros or love, apology on Socrates’ trial, and Phaedo to death.

The writings of Plato are in dialogues. Through chains of questions and answers, the inquiry into a certain topic goes deeper and deeper. If any faults are found in the derivation, clarifications are patched. Like peeling an onion, when the layers are removed one after another, the truth gradually becomes attainable. Then when the questions come to an end, you find that the so-called truth, based on all the pains-taking argument, is actually nowhere to be found. Difficult to understand, right?

That's what I thought when I read the dialogues. For example, when Socrates talked about love, he said that the ultimate beauty or love is “everlasting, and never being born or perishing, neither increasing or diminishing, not beautiful here and ugly there, not beautiful in one direction and ugly in another”. If anyone has read the Buddhism classics Heart Sutra, this kind of everlasting love is actually similar to Nirvana, or the so-called “emptiness”, the almighty emptiness. Furthermore, in Phaedo, Socrates said the soul is deceived by the body through all the senses, “either through sight or hearing or any other sense…it is dragged by the body towards what is always changing, and the soul goes astray and is confused and staggers about like one drunken because she is taking hold of such things”. No wisdom can actually be pursued when the soul is slaved. Again, if anyone has read the Surangama (Lenyan) Sutra, you can easily find that the Buddha actually did the same using coherent logic and reasoning. By stripping all attachments to the illusory body, the eyes, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind, the great wisdom can be achieved. Plato also described the world where the everlasting soul belongs, which is, accidentally, almost the same as the delicate and pure Buddha field. Ideas 2500 years ago from the western and the oriental land meet with each other and resonate in my mind.

Apart from the metaphysical aspects, Plato's dialectic method of inquiring also has practical implications. For example, it encourages challenging and questioning, which is crucial in our daily work and life. By asking why and what, you will probably find that we are still largely ignorant of the world and affairs around us. Reading a good book is like communicating with a genius mind. When such a mind is difficult to be found in reality, I simply turn to a book. While the words flow in front of my eyes, “my heart with pleasure fills, and dances with the daffodils”.