Theosophy

Seven Jewels in Plato and Taoism

By the editors of Lucifer – the Netherlands



[This is a reprint from Lucifer – the Messenger of Light, an original publication of I.S.I.S. Foundation, i.e. International Study-centre for Independent Search for truth. The editor is grateful for the permission given to make this important paper available for all readers of Theosophy Forward.]

One does not only find the seven Jewels of Wisdom in the four religions that were discussed here:Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity and Islam, but in all great philosophical and religious systems. Here follow some indications in relation to Plato and Taoism for the student who wants to do further research.

Plato

In the Phaedo Plato gives a logical foundation to reincarnation by posing that all pairs of contradiction generate from and turn into one another. A solid foundation based on logic in respect to karma can be found in many places in Politeia (known today as the Republic). For example, when it is concluded that injustice results in mutual friction and hate, while justice brings about unity and friendship. (1) Thus, Plato argues that poets who think that disaster comes from the gods, should not be read as part of the education, because man himself is the cause of this punishment which, incidentally, is good for him. (2) Karma takes care that man learns his lessons.

All through Politeia the aristocracy, or the spiritual hierarchy, is described as the best form of government. There is a natural spiritual hierarchy in Nature, and man should copy this in its form of government if he wants to build a just society. Of course we find such a hierarchical structure in man himself too, where the soul is the foundation of the body. (3) Therefore, people who live in their highest part, who live a virtuous life and thus, from a hierarchical point of view, stand above their fellow men, should conduct leadership in the state. This fact naturally leads to the doctrine of self becoming. He, who has made of his inner self a philosopher, becomes a philosopher. Everyone becomes what he made himself and is naturally suitable for a certain task. One is better equipped for this task and another for that task. (4)

In The Myth of Er at the end of Politeia Plato incorporates the first four Jewels of Wisdom in a majestic way. He relates how soldier Er, who fell at the battlefield, is allowed to pass the portals of death without actually being dead. So he can acquire knowledge about the process of dying first hand. Of course Plato is using metaphors, but we can easily see how each new life is a continuation of the old one. Souls that died have a period of rest in which they harvest the characteristic of the past life, after which they meet the three Moirae (goddesses of Fate) Lachesis (past), Clotho (present) and Atropos (future). The symbolism is crystal clear. Clotho, who is seated at a large loom, weaves the future fate in accordance with the acts committed in the past. In turn all souls may chose a fate. This fate turns out to be exactly that which is befitting to them. They occupy that place in the hierarchy, that is congruent with the characteristics they have developed in former lives. (5)

But no one is doomed to remain who he is. You can grow. In the famous allegory of the cave in Politeia, a chained man who is familiar only with the shadows on the wall of the cave (the physical world), is being freed of his chains and via different grades of knowledge finally goes to the source of all that is – the Sun. Self-development is also the aim of the process of education that Plato gives great deal of attention.

Also in Plato there is mention of compassion as a motive. Just as good doctors do not serve their self-interest, will a true leader have the interest of everyone in the state at heart and not his own. (6) And finally, according to Plato everyone can know the source from which everything flows forth. We already indicated the Sun in the allegory of the cave, the Source that brings forth all that is. It is the philosophers, those who love and desire wisdom, who are capable of knowing the source of it. (7)

Taoism

Taoism is a religion that originated in China and goes back to the time that Lao tsu was active there. In ancient China Taoism, Buddhism and Confucianism were three visions that not only peacefully coexisted, but many people were followers of all three simultaneously. Although Confucius never publicly spoke about reincarnation – he did not proclaim metaphysical teachings – silently he must have agreed with it. Also the holy book of Taoism, the Tao te Ching, contains paradoxes that are thought provoking, more than a fully elaborated system of teachings. It is a small book that Lao tsu allegedly had written when he left China in the western direction. It gives practical pointers combined with intuitive hints to deeper teachings.

Nevertheless, Taoism contains the doctrine of reincarnation. Tradition teaches that Lao tsu contemplated Tao in former lives. His student Chuang tzu clearly taught reincarnation. (8) A quote like ‘returning is the motion of the Tao’ (9) in the Tao te Ching can easily be interpreted as cyclicity — and therefore as reincarnation as well. Also: ‘the ten thousand things rise and fall while the Self watches their return’. (10)  That, because of karma, we should not selfishly appropriate power is shown very clearly here:

There is always an official executioner.
If you try to take his place, it is like trying to be a master
carpenter and cutting wood.
If you try to cut wood like a master carpenter, you will
only hurt your hand. (11)

Also a sentence like ‘a violent man will die a violent \death’ (12) can only be explained based on karma. The Tao te Ching gives a lot of attention to leadership. The hierarchy of life does not mean that the one who is the strongest physically should be leading. No, the one who knows Tao, who is aware of boundlessness and unity, who is the mildest, and doesn’t want anything for himself — he is the one suitable as a leader.

If the sage would guide the people, he must serve with
humility. If he would lead them, he must follow behind.
In this way when the sage rules, the people will not feel
oppressed. When he stands before them, they will not be
harmed. (13)

We find self-becoming in the following paradoxes:

When you are at one with the Tao, the Tao welcomes you.
When you are at one with Virtue, the Virtue is
always there.
When you are at one with loss,
the loss is experienced willingly. (14)

The duality – or the two Paths – that is the foundation of endless Nature, is being expressed in a very clear way by the well-known symbol of Yin and Yang. Well now, the sage should rise above that duality. By choosing for Tao, and thus for the inextricable unity of all beings, he never needs to choose again and will never act for himself any more. This is called wu-wei, acting without purpose. It means that the sage never again pursues a personal goal, but only does what is necessary for the whole.

Finally, the Tao te Ching also knows the essential unity of life. This book teaches that we can know that Core of all things.

The beginning of the universe is the mother of all things.
Knowing the mother, one also knows the sons. Knowing
the sons, yet remaining in touch with the mother, brings
freedom from the fear of death. (15)

So we can know the Source. The Tao te Ching teaches how to do that.

With an open mind, you will be openhearted.
Being openhearted, you will act royally.
Being royal, you will attain the divine.
Being divine, you will be at one with the Tao.
Being at one with the Tao is eternal. And though the
body dies, the Tao will never pass away. (16)

References

1. Plato, Republic, the Politeia. Many editions, 351d-352c.
2. See ref. 1, 380a-b.
3. See ref. 1, 403d.
4. See ref. 1, 370b-c.
5. See ref. 1, 614b and further.
6. See ref. 1, 342d-e.
7. See for example: 484b-d.
8. See: Sylvia Cranston, Reincarnation, the Phoenix Fire Mystery. Theosophical University Press, Pasadena 1998, p. 109-111.
9. Lao tsu, Tao te Ching, a new translation by Gia-fu Feng and Jane English. Wildwood House ltd., London 1973, verse 40.
10. See ref. 9, verse 16.
11. See ref. 9, verse 74.
12. See ref. 9, verse 42.
13. See ref. 9, verse 66.
14. See ref. 9, verse 23.
15. See ref. 9, verse 52.
16. See ref. 9, verse 16.

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