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The Theoretical Similarities Between Hinduism And Plato Philosophy Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 1988 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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In the stories of Hindu’s Bhagavad Gita and Plato’s Phaedrus, there are underlying parallel themes. Phaedrus, a dialectic not restricted to a single subject, passes from one subject to another like a conversation, moving from love, to the human soul, to the idea of rhetoric. The Bhagavad Gita, the religious scripture, follows the themes of: knowledge (jnana), action (karma), and love (bhakti). Hindu’s and Plato’s perceptions coincide; there is a fundamental understanding by both cultures, with overlapping thoughts on our sense of mankind’s reality. Looking at the definable themes of reality in Plato’s Phaedrus, which consists of intangible and indefinable forms, to the reality of Hindu’s Bhagavad Gita, which entails the reality of all beings, or the metaphysical, I argue that the themes of both stories, despite the fact that they derive from dissimilar civilizations, show consistent or similar reflection on the same key premises.

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The first topic of reality to mention would be that of Socrates reality of the soul. “For to be a man one must understand the content of a general term, leaving the field of manifold sense perceptions and entering that in which the object of knowledge is unique and grasped only by reasoning. This process is a remembering of what our soul once saw as it made its journey with a god, looking down upon what we now assert to be real and gazing upward at reality itself” (249) [1] . These two paragraphs basically summarize or define a man’s reality as a “form”, because for Socrates, reality always consists of intangible and indefinable forms, these “forms” or qualities are the essence of objects. For example, the chair upon which I sit, which I think is “real,” is really a copy of the form of a chair, the ideal chair. According to him, being comprised of these “forms” is the only way for reality to be revealed to us is through the process of our soul’s recollection of forms.

Regarding the soul’s structure, Socrates claims he describes the soul in the only way possible. He describes the soul as the union of a team of winged horses drawing a charioteer. In this story, it is implied that horses and charioteers are a mixture of good and of bad. To begin with, our driver is in charge of a pair of horses, one horse being beautiful and good, while the other is the opposite being ugly and unruly. This makes the driving of the chariot a difficult task. For the last part of this section, Plato writes that, “Although distracted by the horses, the soul does have a view of reality, just barely” (248a) [2] . As stated in class, this could be comparable to the origins of Freud’s Id, Ego, and Superego: The horse that wants the pleasure is the Id, the horse that is perfect or upright is the Ego, and, finally, the Superego is the charioteer trying to control both. The final aspect of Plato’s reality are two statements, the first, “only that which moves itself….never ceases moving” (245c7-8) [3] , establishing the immortality of the soul. Finally, the description of how some souls lose their wings and begin a downward movement (246c) [4] , stating that crashing doesn’t mean a loss of hope, establishes a reality of reincarnation.

The realities of the Bhagavad Gita are very similar to that of Plato’s realities. Similar subjects touched upon are those of death, release of the soul from the body, the ascension of the soul, the ego, and its reincarnation to the world. Though the subject is only briefly touched upon in the story, throughout there are descriptions of the realities of the soul in terms of Hindu belief. The Hindu perception of a soul coincides with the idea that no one can know what a soul is exactly. What is understood is that everyone has a soul, even though people cannot feel it, this is because mankind is distracted by reality. Also understood is that the soul is superior to all things: “the senses are greater, greater than the senses is the mind, greater than the mind is buddhi, and greater than the buddhi is the self” (3.42) [5] . Other realities of the soul include the idea that the soul is in different form when liberated, in comparison to the soul that is inside a living body, called the Jiva. The embodied soul is blurred by reality, the new identity and its ego. This leads to the goal of self-realization, which involves restraining the mind; this act is called Yoga. “That condition is the aim of all yoga, in which through the practice of yoga, the mind becomes stilled, in which the self beholds the self within and is absorbed in the self, in which the yogi finds supreme ecstasy” (6.21-22) [6] . Through self-realization one is able to excel, learning aspects of the mind, like sattva (purity),or Rjas (egoism), and tmas (grossness). The final subject touched upon is that of death, clarifying that the soul, or atman, is indestructible and eternal; it does not die.

In the next section in Plato’s Phaedrus, he attempts to understand the reality of rhetoric and writing, a paradox of knowledge he attempts to analyze through a roundabout approach. He comes to the conclusion that truth is the only valid end of a rhetoric and, in the process, the goal should be to express the indescribable, to head for a direct vision of the reality. When describing the form of the soul, Plato establishes that only rhetoric can explain what it is; “what it resembles, however, can be expressed more briefly and in human language (246) [7] . Plato states that language cannot reproduce reality, but through the use of a metaphor, it can express a sense of reality. Plato states this in his Socratic speech, making pretty it obvious that rhetoric is not possible without an understanding of the knowledge that is beyond language -language’s form-can only imitate the forms of reality.

The second chapter of the Bhagavad Gita also speaks of knowledge; know as the Jnana Yoga or Samkhya Yoga, a prevalent concept in Hindu scripture. Developments of Jnana include the realization of what is real and unreal, what is everlasting or eternal, and what is timely or worldly. Jnana, in basic terms, means Knowledge, which in Hindu’s rhetoric, is viewed as both liberating and binding. It is one of the three Gunas; the most relevant being the sattvik-jnana, or the understanding by the knowledge that there is one absolute reality. Jnana, or wisdom, is praised for being the great purifier which helps us to cross the sea of ignorance that keeps us in bondage (verses IV. 35-38) [8] . The Jnana Yoga is the understanding that ignorance is the cause of bondage, and knowledge is the cause of our liberation; knowledge is responsible for liberating us from the impurities such as ego and desire. The last words of the Bhagavad Gita, acknowledges that peace and knowledge are combined in krishna’s consciousness.

The final parallel in my argument occurs in the Phaedrus has to do with Plato’s expression of his attitude toward love. What must be noted in this section is that Plato’s Forms play a central part in his explanation of love, Plato after all, is the student of Socrates. Plato has two basic objections of the account of love in the Phaedrus. One is the primary point in this part of the Phaedrus, stating that men are not real, but images of another world, making it unnecessary to love because men are only images of forms, and we only love them as reminders of forms. This basically means that men can only be loved as a means, presenting love as just a means to use one another, basically saying that when a man is loved it is only because he helps his lover reconnect with forms. Plato continues, saying that when a lover has fallen in love on the basis of form, and only on the basis of these qualities, and because of this he begins to further the interest of that beloved. The second objective of Plato is to establish that the love that we feel for another person is the result of a deficiency. And when we love a person, it is because of this deficiency, which is part of humanity. As humans, we all want to cure this condition, this is done in the expression of feeling, which we describe as love.

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In a similar respect, the Bhagavad Gita also has a link to the concept of love, being part of the three main themes taught in chapters 7-12 [9] , the path to love, or the Bhakti yoga, seen as the ideal way to show devotion to your god. In the epic the God is the supreme reality that is both ultimate and personal.

I am the same to all beings, and my love is ever the same; but those who worship me with devotion, they are in me and I am in them. For if even one who does evil were to worship me with all his soul, he must be considered righteous, because of his righteous will. He will soon become pure and reach everlasting peace. For be aware, Arjuna, that he who loves me shall not perish. (9:29-31) [10] 

In this lesson (Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 4) [11] , Krishna says though I am unborn, I come into being in age after age, whenever dharma (eternal truth) declines and adharma (unnatural or immoral) is on the rise. The story continues and, at Arjuna’s request, Krishna reveals his true form, which Arjuna perceives with a third eye. The response to Krishna’s revelation is with love, and it is thought that only through love can one perceive Krishna’s true form. And in return, Krishna reveals his love to Arjuna saying: “Abandoning all dharma, come to me along for refuge” 18.66 [12] .

I would argue that throughout the stories, underlying parallels are evident. Even though the Phaedrus is on the subject of thought and reality and the Bhagavad Gita is a religious text, they follow similar themes. First of the themes is that of the soul, the death of it, the release of it from the body, the ascension of it, its ego , its reincarnation to the world, and the aspects of reality’s affect on it. True goal of both civilizations is to understand reality, a paradoxical quest. Finally, both address the concept of love. Plato’s means of love and the godly love for Krishna are establish in both cultures as the way to view true “form”. It is obvious now that there is a fundamental understanding by everyone, and our sense of mankind’s reality.


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