True Intoxication

479-800

 In Plato’s book, Protagoras, the philosopher, Socrates, sat enthralled at the eloquence of a speech delivered by the Sophist teacher, Protagoras. He was, the text states, so thoroughly smitten by the oratory that he continued to hear the lecturer's voice even after Protagoras had finished holding forth. 

 In the words of the charmed Socrates: “The echo (of his voice) is still going on. At length, when the truth dawned upon me, that he had really finished, not without difficulty, I began to collect myself.” 

 Socrates apparently needed time to recover from the dazzlement!    

 Well, was the great philosopher, Socrates, really that enamoured, that moonstruck, by Protagoras, or is the scene between the two men to be taken as something of a comedy scene? 

 It’s likely that there’s a comedic element in it, for Socrates was always to stand against Protagoras's fundamental idea that man is the measure of all things.  

 These two men were actually world’s apart - arch rivals - emphasizing entirely different and incompatible points of view about the nature of knowledge - about what it is that fundamentally is to be understood.

 From the perspective of Socrates, it is not man's ability to measure that counts, for it is not man himself who is the ultimate reference point, but something beyond every man, a Divine principle, a certain level of transcendent knowledge, that guides and informs.

 And it is through being oriented towards and in submission to that principle and not primarily to one's own subjective experience, that makes all the difference, and is the difference between sophistry and true philosophy.

 The Socratic stance is a willingness oneself to be measured, rather than to measure - to be measured by the Divine principle, which requires an attitude of humility and openness before the penetrating light of true knowledge. 

 Which calls to mind the references in Plato’s dialogues to those regular occasions when Socrates was observed to be in some kind of trance state, listening for an inner voice.

 It is apparent that what made Socrates different and distinct from others was his relationship with the higher part of man’s spirit. He was impelled by some kind of burning knowledge at the heart of his being. The fire burning there was the force that drove him. 

 His fundamental orientation was towards the climate of his own inner life. Everything else was secondary to that. 

 The difference therefore between Protagaros and Socrates is that one was concerned to measure and control - the other, to be measured and to yield.

 The first, I repeat, is the way of the Sophists - how to get on in the world, how to be successful, etc. The second, the way of real philosophy.

 The Sophist, Protagoras, is kind of like the best salesman you’ve ever met. He certainly sounds that way.

 To the ever excitable young man, Hippocrates, who had so earnestly wanted to meet Protagoras, he says: "Young man, if you associate with me, on the very first day you will return home a better man than you came, and better on the second than on the first, and better every day than you were on the day before.” 

 I read this to my wife and she had the same reaction I did, which was - 'Not to be trusted - he’s trying to sell something!'

 Well, I’m out the door when I hear someone someone talk like that, with his promises of the success, wealth and happiness to be obtained by signing up for his course.

 The Socratic effect in contrast is going to open you up and turn you around. His effect will be to create an inner upheaval, a deep questioning and evaluation of yourself. His effect will be to put you into a state of radical self-interrogation as a way of life.

 It is therefore the case that when Socrates listened to Protagoras, he was at best impressed only with Protagaros's style, or his ability with words, as when we say about someone that 'he had a very fine delivery that day’ - 'he gave a great performance.'

 After all, a speaker may be slick, polished, smooth, high sounding and high flown, and yet is delivering but a magniloquent dispatch - Protagaros's stock-in-trade. Heard any sophists lately?

 Therefore questions to be asked about any speech are: 'Where’s the depth? Where’s the substance? What is the content?'

 But by far the most important question to ask is, 'Where’s the firey knowledge, where’s the light, that pierces the conscience, causing that inner upheaval that leads to the torching of the inner flame?'

 For knowledge that convicts and inspires is not some abstract commodity but is more like a fire, energy or light

 The Socratic concern is to penetrate through the barriers and obstructions to that level of burning knowledge, the Light within, which remains when all the dross and rubbish (samskaras) has been cleared away.

 Thus when Socrates learned that his young student, Hippocrates, wanted to  hear Protagoras, he questioned the young man about what might be accomplished by coming into contact with the sophist.

 'Now what, Hippocrates, are you supposed to want to be? What is supposed to happen? What are you supposed to becomeHow are you to be changed? What is to change as a result of a Sophist education?’ (my translations) 

 In other words, Socrates, is asking the young man if the effect of Protagoras is going to light up something inside of him, or not?

 Socrates warns the young man: “No sooner does this foreigner appear, than you instantly commit your soul to his keeping. In the evening, as you say, you hear of him, and in the morning you go to him, never deliberating or taking the opinion of any one as to whether you ought to entrust yourself to him or not.”

 For from the perspective of Socrates, though he doesn’t say it directly to the young man, (as he plays along with him) you can at best expect an impressive show from a Sophist, but there will be a missing depth. 

 A missing depth that, really, we cannot live without. For without an engagement on a certain level of depth, we will, quite predictably, out of emptiness and dissatisfaction, turn to poor substitutes to fill ourselves up, such as: “Drinking for intoxication, only to get a hangover later. Or, overeating because we want to feel high, only to get sick.” (Gurumayi, Kindle My Heart, Vol 1)

 Or we might practice, for example, an exoteric form of spirituality that is always calculating and bargaining with life and with the Creator: 'I’m going through a hard time, so I’ll give up such and such at Lent. I’ll sacrifice this, if you do this for me, God. I’ll make this promise and expect favour in return.'

 It’s an external focus. It’s primitive. Properly, it’s not even worthy to be called religion. It’s the kind of religion that Jesus Himself rejected when he said no in the desert to becoming a dictator, social worker or magician. (power, control, and celebrity status) 

 But real religion, like real philosophy, is to go deep inside. For, “if you do not get support from inside, no matter how much outer support you get, it is never going to be enough. You will always be flying from one flower to another, like a bee.” (Gurumayi) 

 A young priest at my church has said that what is unique about Eastern Orthodoxy is its focus on the cultivation of the inner life by the repetition of the Jesus Prayer. Which reinforces the point made by the meditation master, Gurumayi, that it is “only in meditation that we feel complete satisfaction, complete contentment.” 

 Says she: "True intoxication comes when we live in the state of inner truth and when we take that same state into everything that we do; into every aspect of our lives.”  

 So where is our focus? Is it external or internal? In the terms of this article, am I a sophist or a philosopher? Am I all about outer success, or the inner fire?  

 I said to a friend the other day in a coffee shop: "If we were to interview everyone here about what they are primarily searching for, what might each of them say?

 How many would say without pause, 'I am seeking first the kingdom of God in my life, (an internal focus) and only secondarily, other things?’ (an external focus)   

 Kabir asks: "O my dear one, where are you looking for me?

I am with you.

I am with you constantly.

Where are you looking for me?

Don’t look for Me in a temple.

Don’t look for Me in a mosque,

Don't look for Me in a holy place,

Don’t look for Me in a holy river.

I don’t live in these places.

I live in your trust, I live in your faith

Find me in your trust;

Find me in your faith.

I don’t live in ceremonies;

I don’t live in renunciation.

If you look for Me, you will find Me.

I live in your search

I am in your breath

I am with you.

What you are searching for is with you constantly.

The object of the search exists in the search itself.”

Sonne, by Schiller