Socrates was a different kind teacher of Teacher, who, in spite of being accused by Meletus that he ‘. . an in evildoer and a curious person, who searches in to things under the earth and in heaven and makes the worse appear the better cause . .’ and which Socrates categorically denies telling the Judges that ‘there little foundation that I am a teacher and take money . . .although if a man were really able to instruct mankind, to receive money for giving instruction would, in my opinion, be an honour to him’.
He was nevertheless one who would ask any one who appears as wise, whether a citizen or a stranger, to define their terms and if such one is not wise then show him that he is not wise. People gathered around him, rich and young like Plato, commoners like Antisthenes and many others to whom problems agitated the people of Athens. People liked his simplicity and unassuming poverty as well eagerness for knowledge and humility in wisdom. Will Durant speaks of the loss of the faith of young generation in gods and religion, moral code and ethical standards due to the teachings of the Sophists. The older generation would have liked him to bring back young people back to the temples and the ancient polytheistic religion but he was keen to make people think for themselves, though he had his own religious convictions, believing in one god, immortality of soul and that death would not destroy it. Socrates was not a preacher but a teacher who encouraged people to ask questions and think for themselves. He saw his role as guide who encourages and goads people to think for themselves, ‘Know Thyself’ being the process.
Inquiring himself in all sincerity, ‘When did our souls acquire the knowledge?’, he would rationalize, ‘. . not presumably when we have been human beings . . our souls existed. Simmias, earlier before inhabiting the human form . . . existed apart from the bodies having had intelligence . . . (Therefore) if the things which we talk about do exist, the beautiful and the Good and all the reality of that kind . . that it existed previously and belonged to us, and comparing the sensory data with the Reality, we will realize that our souls existed even before we were born. If these things do not really exists, then our discussions will have no purpose’. Continuing he said ‘If our soul had previous existence before coming to the land of the living, being born and necessarily generated from death or the state of deadness, then it surely must exist even after death and has to be born again ’.
He believed in the eternal and immortal existence of Wisdom within each one, whether human or any other living creature. And therefore, there is nothing to be learnt afresh, learning was only recollection of what one already knows and now forgotten due to excessive attachment to the body. The problem arises ‘whenever soul and body are together, the nature of the body forces the soul to become subservient and be ruled over, while the soul’s nature is to rule and be dominant’. ‘Every pleasure and pain fastens the soul with a nail to the body, and pins it down and makes it similar to the body, and it (the soul) imagines to be true whatever the body declares it to be so. From holding the same opinion as the body and taking delight in the same things it is forced, I suppose, to acquire the same sort of habits and to take same sort of nourishment and to become such that it can never reach the other world in the state of purity; it always depart contaminated by the body and grow like the seed that has been sown and as a result be deprived of the privilege of dwelling with what is divine and pure and of single nature.’
Since the soul makes use of sight, hearing or any other sense, which is the bodily or physical method, then the soul is dragged by the body towards that is never constant, vacillates and is confused, since the body being in similar position. Therefore one should inquire, ‘ . . which one do you think is the divine and which is mortal? Don’t you think that it is the nature of the divine to rule and lead of the mortal to be be ruled and to serve? . . The soul very similar to that which is divine and deathless, intelligible and uniform, indissoluble and always invariable and constant while the body is very much like which is human, mortal and manifold, incomprehensible to the intelligence, never constant. Is its possible to say that they are false?’
Socrates says that ‘it is not lawful to join gods without having pursued philosophy and without being absolutely pure. For this reason, true philosophers abstain from lusts of the body and surrender themselves exercising will-power, not because they are afraid to lose their (physical) power and energy (and want to strengthen), whih is the reason of the worldly people, nor even fearing disrepute and disgrace, being their love for power and honour, but because having regard for their souls they do not live for body, detaching themselves from the worldly people, who are ignorant of where they are going, but cultivating only those pursuits taking different course, believing that thy should do nothing to hinder philosophy that purifies, following philosophy accepting the path which philosophy leads them’.
Then ‘the lovers of learning find out that philosophy takes in hand their souls, bound and glued to the body as though through a prison wall and being self-indulgent in utter ignorance. Philosophy surveys reality freely by themselves, seeing the body as prison and soul as the prisoner and shrewdly works using the desires and aiding and abetting his imprisonment as far as possible. The lovers of learning will find that philosophy takes over their souls in this condition, gently soothing and trying to free them, pointing that the evidence of the eyes, ears and other senses is completely misleading, urges them to withdraw their souls from using them, except when such use is inevitable. It encourages the soul to gather itself up unto itself, all alone and to put trust in nothing but itself and to trust only such realities as it may find in their essential nature by its own essential nature. Because whatever the soul sees by the use of something else, things appear variously in various other things, it would count in no way real. Such things are objects of senses and visible, while what the soul sees by itself is an obect of thought and invisible’.
‘The soul of the true philosopher, simply believes that it should not oppose such detachment, therefore, abstains from pleasures, desires and pains as far as possible, realizing that whenever one experiences intense pleasure or fear or desire he would not suffer or find pleasure, even though these evil things one may expect to bring loss of health and wealth as a result of the desires. In fcat one may suffer the greatest and worst of all evils and yet fail to take it nogteof the same’.
Socrates believes, therefore, the philosopher’s job is to work for the release of the soul and that it would not thereafter willfully give itself again to those pleasures to become bound by the body. It would fiollow reason and always fix attention to what is true and divine and not to any object nor any opinion but knowledge, nourishing itself on that belief that this is how it should live and that when end comes it arrives to the stage similar to stage of being released from human sufferings.
Socrates compares the philosophers to the swans who when they realize that they are to die, sing longer and more seweetly than they have ever did earlier, because they are going to the gods whose servants they are. But mankind because they fear death, slander swans saying that they lament their death, therefore, being distressed they sing their farewell song. These people forget that no bird sings when it is hungry or cold or experiences pain, not even a nightingale or a swallow. Swans are prophetic and see the good things waiting for them in the other wolrd. That is why they sing, because they are filled with joy and on that day they will travel to a higher plane than ever in their lives before’.
A confident Soctrates then tells his companions that ‘I think that I myself am a fellow traveler with those swans and presiding priest of the same god and I no less than they have the gift of prophesy from the master and that I am leaving this life no more sorrowfully than they do.’
Therefore, for all practical purposes, he proposes that Wisdom is not acquired but through inquiry discovered, perceived within one’s self, reflected upon and meditated ‘. . if a man sees or hears or otherwise perceives something, and not only recognizes that particular thing but also thinks of something else . . . So long as seeing one thing you form an image of another, whether the other thing is similar or not, the process must he accepted as that of recollection’.
Socrates suggests to Cebes who points out to him that there is child in each human being who is afraid of Death without being wise to its meaning, herecommends each one should be convinced and convinced continuously till the fear leaves him. When inquired, where to find such teacher, Socrates replies, ‘Hellas (the name applied to the ancient Greece and the neighbouring islands) is wide and in it there are many good men, even among many tribes of the barbarians, therefore, must enquire diligently for such charmer. You should search also among yourselves and help one another. But it is difficult for you to find any one more capable of doing this than you are’. Therefore, self-inquiry is the most potent instrument.
Ramana Maharshi became a Guru inadvertently but fortunately for large number of intellectuals who were confused of Indian mysticism by the torrential influence of western philosophical thoughts and it seemingly impressive record in scientific and technological fronts. While Bhakti, with its extreme demands on religious scriptures and did not satisfy those who were exposed to western world the intellectualism of western educated but oriented to eastern philosophies could not satisfy the integral involvement in things spiritual. Ramana Maharshi represented the point where the eastern philosophy became explained in eastern symbols and eastern intellectualism, bringing India back to some extent where the upanishadic intellectuals stood. The emphasis on the need for individual intellectual inquiry in one’s self -
was balance by worshipping through worship and surrender to reach the universal Self –
His first encounter as Guru, the word understood as one who removes ignorance, was when some sadhus living on Arunachala mountain asked him to clarify some obtuse passages from scriptures, which he himself had not earlier read, but when read, made him conscious that they speak of experiences similar to the ones which he himself had gone through.
His constant insistence was to inquire within, ‘Who am I?’ because as he pointed out to Paul Brunton, ‘The first and foremost of all thoughts, the primeval thought in mind of every human being, is the thought I. It is only after the birth of this thought that all other thoughts can rise at all. It is only after the first personal pronoun I has risen in mind that the second thought could mentally follow the I thread, until it takes you back to its source. You would discover that, as it is the first thought to appear so it is also the last one to disappear. This is a matter which can be experienced’..
Creation and creative activity begins with realization and affirmation of the I. As mentioned in Brihad Aranyaka Up. even the Prime Existence, the universal Self which in the beginning was all alone -
and seeing none other than the self, conducted himself as ‘I’ and ‘Existence’ -
Then the Prime Existence acknowledged I am verily the creation for I myself have produced all this, having created all this - Even as the seer of Isha Up. says - – he sees all beings in his own self and his own self in all beings.
Maharshi says that ‘In the case of jnani the rise or existence of the ego is only apparent and he enjoys his unbroken transcendental experience in spite of such apparent rise or existence of the ego, keeping his attention always on the Source. This ego is harmless; it is like the skeleton of a burnt rope - though it has a form, it is no use to tie anything with.’
As one Guru for innumerable disciples, he clarified in conventional language and symbols and examples. Using common form of speech he pointed that unconsciously one is aware that his self is different and distinct form his body, when he says that my eyes, my ears, my hands, my body and my mind yet identifying the self with the body when declaring I have pain, I am happy, I suffer, I enjoy, I die, knowing well that when his body deteriorates, decays and is destroyed, then he accepts that it is ‘my body is being taken to the cremation ground’ and would not say, ‘I have been taken to the cremation ground’.
He points out that the temporal I, is the result of the empirical mind and the spiritual I is the result of the absence of the empirical mind. Empirical Mind is the repository of the mental impressions created in mind by sense organs that leads the mind to associate the body with one’s self. ‘ . . it is your mind that haunts you. The ego is the source of thought. It creates the body, the world and it makes you think that you are householder . . It is no help to change the environment. The one obstacle is the mind and it must be overcome whether in the home or in the jungle. If you can do it in jungle why not in the home?’
‘Innate tendencies and subtle memories of past experiences lead to consequential possibilities of them becoming active’. ‘The sense of ( this empirical) I pertains to the person, body and the brain’. Therefore, ‘If the Mind, which is the cause of all thoughts and activities, disappears, the external objects too would disappear. (Because) Mind is only thoughts, it is a form of energy. It manifests itself as world.’ ‘If the (empirical) Mind, which is the cause of all thoughts and activities, disappears, the external objects too would disappear. Mind is only thoughts, it is a form of energy. It manifests itself as world. When Mind sinks in Self, then the Self is realized; when the Mind issues forth, the world appears and the Self is not realized.’
Maharshi says, ‘Once we take away the world, which causes our doubts, the clouds in our mind, then the light of God will shine clearly through. How is the world taken away? When for example instead of seeing a man you and say, this is God existing as body, which body answers more or less perfectly to the description of a God, then it would as a ship meets the description more or less of the wheel’.
‘This exposition is all right as far as it goes, but strictly speaking even this is not accurate. The jnani is not even anxious to shed his body; he is indifferent alike to the existence or non-existence of the body, being almost unaware of it’. Therefore, he concluded ‘As you are so is the world. Without understanding yourself what is the use of trying to understand the world?’ The spiritual life is lived when When Mind sinks in Self, then the Self is realized; when the Mind issues forth, the world appears and the Self is not realized.’
Maharshi considers inquiry in the nature of I as ‘the one unfallible means, the only direct one, to realize the unconditioned absolute Being, which you really are’ and says ‘There is no other adequate method except self-inquiry. If the mind is quietened by other means it stays quiet for some time and then springs up again and resumes its former activity’. At the same time, ‘The purpose of inquiry is to focus the entire mind at its source. It is not a case of one I searching another I’. One would discover that even ‘as it (the I) is the first thought to appear so it is also the last one to disappear. This is a matter which can be experienced’.
When thoughts rise up in mind during inquiry, one should not follow them but watch them as they arise – what is this thought? where did it come from, and to whom? To me – who am I? Even if impure thought rise in mind, let them be. Even as one watches the thoughts rising in mind, they come to be terminated, reverting to their source. All thoughts are inconsistent with realization. The right thing to be done is termination of the thoughts of oneself as well others as they arise.
He will then become aware that ‘the real I or self is not the body, nor any of the five senses, nor the sense-objects, nor the organs of action, nor the praana, nor the mind, nor even the deep sleep state where there is not cognizance of these . . After rejecting each of these and saying ‘these I am not’, that which alone remains is the I and that is Consciousness. When a man knows his true self (the individual real I) for the first time something else arises from the depths of his being and takes possession of him, that which is (the Universal I or the Self), behind the mind is the infinite, divine, eternal. Some people call it the Kingdom of Heaven, others call it soul and others again call it Nirvana, Hindus call it liberation; you may give whatever name you wish. When this happens a man has not really lost himself; rather he has found himself ’.