Brimful of Nothing


 Hippias, a character in Plato’s writings, is described in Professor Robert E. Cushman's book, Therapeia, as someone who "signalized the brimming sophistic repertoire of diversified knowledges.” Which is to say, according to Cushman, that Hippias sent out signals that in him was to be found a man chock-full of sophistry.

 Thus from a Platonic perspective, the sophistry of Hippias, which amounted to a bag full of specialized knowledge about a great many things, is not to be regarded as true or real wisdom, but its substitute.

 Hippias was therefore a worldly man - a success strategist - about whom it is said that he was “a man who seemed to do it all.” 

 He was, for instance, “a popular politician." He was "a multitalented intellectual.” He was “well-reputed. Sophisticated. Rich. Famous. Well-travelled. What is more, as a fine dresser, he looked fine doing it all." (The New Nobility: A Prolegomenon to Plato’s Greater Hippias.”) 

 In other words, from the Platonic point of view, Hippias was sorely lacking - an empty suit in a finely tailored one - and therefore completely unqualified to teach.

 For Plato, Hippias is the impoverished man - the ignorant man - for his worldly attainments are regarded as nothing as compared with the attainment of spiritual wisdom.

 Plato had only disdain for those whose habit of mind, whose way of life, was a focus on the acquisition of knowledge about many things while skipping past the search for essential, or higher things.

 The Platonic perspective is that “wisdom is remote from the mental state of one who is surfeited with knowledge of many things. The knowledge which encumbers his mind is incredibly numerous, but the content is “fifty-seven varieties of odds and ends.” 

 Or put another way: "No matter how encyclopaedic a man’s mind, or how learned he may be in the sciences, he is not therefore equipped to give good counsel.” 

 No, the ability to give good counsel comes only from that one who is a lover of truth and wisdom, from that person who strives after true being. (R. E. Cushman, Therapeia p. 290)

 What we see then in Hippias is a success monger, not a spiritual teacher.

 He was, we might say, a how to do it guy - a how to get ahead guy - a how to make it in the world kind of guy.

 He was a promoter of how you could do really well at storing up treasures upon the earth, while forgetting to prepare for heaven. (He was perhaps the sort who, when performing, smiles all the time. The kind of person I’m inclined not to trust.)

 Plato’s critique of Hippias is that he was crammed full of a lot of specialized, external knowledge about this or that, but inwardly an empty sop

 He was skilled only at skimming along on the surface of things - smooth, slick, and clever, but ultimately a vacuous, empty messenger.

 In a phrase, brimful of nothing.

 In contrast to Hippias, the knowledge specialist, is another kind of man who, through his art, teaching and friendships, has the effect of inspiring a desire for spiritual life.

 For example, a painter in this regard paints in such a way that his effect is to catapult you out of yourself into new and greater dimensions of being.

 Or there is that friend who lives in such a way that her existence points to the transcendent dimension.

 You find after time spent with her that you want to make it a priority to cultivate a daily prayer and meditation practice.

 Her effect upon you is that you are seized with a longing to know God.

 In Platonic terms, you begin to recollect yourself, which is the act of recognizing your spiritual nature.

 You begin to make efforts to bring yourself together fully - to gather yourself in the splendour of the recognition that you are more than a material girl or boy.

 You understand more than ever that you are not just a body - not just a mind. But a soul, with Spirit shining through.

 You understand and recognize as in Wordsworth's poetry, that you’ve come into the world not as a blank slate, but with an enormous spiritual capacity.

 "Our birth," said Wordsworth, "is but a sleep and a forgetting."

 "The soul that rises with us, our life’s star, hath had elsewhere its setting. And cometh from afar. Not in entire forgetfulness. And not in utter nakedness."

 "But trailing clouds of glory do we come from God, who is our home." 

 Which means therefore that “heaven lies about us in our infancy” 

 The Light of God is shining through the new born child. She’s more than a little thing. She’s a spiritual being.

 But then, of course, as the story goes, there is a downward spiral into spiritual forgetfulness, often solidified in late adolescence as the “shades of the prison-house (peer pressure & such) begin to close upon the growing girl or boy.” 

 The teenager loses touch with his capacity for wonder and joy. His heart closes and he becomes preoccupied with say, becoming like a Hippias, achieving perhaps this or that success, while ignoring his spiritual nature. 

 The child then becomes a man who continues to make it his practice and habit to forget that his roots are in the Divine and who imagines that he’s the kingpin of his existence.

 The hope remains, however, that either a crisis, or an awakening of spiritual longing, will move him towards the task of recollection and recognition, as he seeks to bring himself together in a response to the Divine Light.

 Now, I noticed the other evening an absence of spirit, and then its presence  at a cocktail party.

 That evening I experienced first a non conversation, and then a real one.

 During the first non-conversation, two bodies stood in front of me, who as far as I could tell, were there, but not there, if you know what I mean. They were present but absent. Their presence was an absence.

 I could not find any way to connect with either of them.

 If the evening had gone on like that, I would have gone home concluding that I had had a non-evening - a non-event - that I had been to yet another empty cocktail party where nothing happened - where nothing was learned and nothing understood. And therefore, an entirely unmemorable event.

 But then, out of nowhere, an elderly gentleman approached me in a friendly manner. I was actually astonished by his immediate interest and vital presence. 

 But no sooner had he made his presence felt, than someone bolted between us in a burst of joviality, thereby interrupting a conversation that had barely begun. 

 Not wishing then to just stand there like a dolt, I politely eased myself away, saying gently to the older gentleman: "There’s no social obligation. Don’t worry."

 I expected that that would be the end of it.

 But then, to my surprise a while later the man approached me again.

 The engagement between us was immediate and on so many levels. Now, on one level he was way beyond me, for he had been a Professor of Mathematics for a great many years. But on another level, there was between us an evident search for spiritual depth and integrity. 

 In that, there was an incredible congruence between us.

 And thus we shared together in a sense of the magic of inquiry. When I thought of our conversation later, tears came to my eyes.

 There was absolutely no surface talk at all. His wife, upon noticing what was going on between us, made the comment: "He needs this kind of inter-action,” leaving me thereby with the impression, that he, like me, has been dragged to not a few of these kinds of vapid events. I thought to myself later that perhaps he, like me, knew the experience of entertaining suicidal thoughts at cocktail parties.

 What I took away from the cocktail party was the memory of meeting someone whose most evident characteristic was that he was animated by streams of living water flowing from within.

 It was, in short,  a memorable encounter and made my evening.

 My new friend, was, in a phrase, no Hippias. He was not, like Hippias: "Stuffed with scientific and historial information - ever ready and willing to disgorge his learning in the presence of any group of open-mouthed bystanders.” (p. 60)

 No, he was the opposite of that. I felt his humility and wisdom.

 I got the sense that my new friend's thinking arose from an awakened essence.

 He was someone who had broken out of what Huston Smith calls our “cabined condition.” (Huston Smith, Forgotten Truth, p.74)

 He was someone who knew that level of soul that Smith states is “situated behind the senses, which sees through the eyes without being seen, and hears with the ears without being heard - which lies there deeper than mind.

 My new friend was well acquainted with that life-giving dimension. It informed and inspired his life and manner. 

 I felt therefore blessed at the cocktail party to meet not a sophist brimful of nothing, but a wise man full of Spirit.

 I had a great time at the cocktail party, something I have never been known to say.

heaven ladder

Sri Rupa Manjari Pada, Buvana


 come by emotions of extraordinary power (250a6

b1). Such is the strength of these feelings that the person's whole life is turned upside

down and, in the lengths to 

which he will go to see his beloved and redeem his vision of the form, he appears completely mad to his fellow human beings. On recalling the form through the 

particular, the lover experiences pain, which Plato describes through the image of the wings of the soul regrowing, causing the kind of prickling and irritation that 

children have when they are first cutting their teeth (251c1


Recollection is given a central role to play in the myth. But is it recollection as we have found it in the 


 or is it as K interprets it? Throughout this passage Plato 

associates recollection with an experience that feels extraordinary to the person who has it and that makes him appear a madman to the majority of people around him. 

In my view this tells strongly in favour of D. But there is a brief passage which many have thought to point to K. Just before he begins to describe the process of 

recollection, Plato talks of the choice of incarnation that faces souls after their fall (249b1). After their first incarnation they may become animals. If they do this they 

can later be reincarnated as a human. But he adds that only a soul which has seen the forms can become a human. And it is when he spells out the reason for this that 

advocates of K prick up their ears:

For only the soul that has beheld truth may enter into this our human form: seeing that man must understand the language of forms, passing from a plurality of perceptions to a 

unity comprehended by reasoning; and such understanding is a recollection of those things which our souls saw before as they journeyed with their god, looking down upon 

things we now suppose to be, and gazing up to that which truly is. (249b5


Although there are a number of difficulties about the language used, difficulties that have provoked attempts to alter the text, most commentators interpret this passage 

in a way that clearly favours the K interpretation. Hackforth,


 for instance, interprets the line of argument as follows:

Plato is careful to insist that the soul of an animal can pass into the body of a man only if the reverse transmigration has preceded (249b4). This has of course already been said, or 

implied, at 248d1, but the reason for it is now given, namely that only