Socrates opened the minds of his followers to just how little actual knowledge anyone really has. He pointed out to them how so very much of what we say we know, is just things that we think to be likely, or are taking on authority. In fact, the only piece of information he claimed to really know, was the fact that he knew nothing.
Socrates had a point. As I think about it, there are extremely few things that I really know directly. I only take it on faith that the atom, Australia, and the 1970s exist(ed). I have never personally seen, measured, or witnessed any of these things. I do not doubt their existence, but I admit that all information I have of them is strictly secondhand.
The Buddha similarly cautioned against relying upon secondhand knowledge. Even as he presented to his followers the path to Nirvana, he instructed them not to take his word for it. To do so, he explained, would be insufficient. Rather than only being told the right way, one had to possess what he called “direct knowledge” of it. It was this direct knowledge that had led him to his own enlightenment, and also it was the only way for any other to reach enlightenment.
When one is willing to confess their ignorance, and let go of all the many things they do not know, they often discover that not everything is taken away. There still remains a nugget or two of the eternal. When we are no longer cluttered by the things that we think or assume, then we can discover the penultimate truths that we actually know.
This is a knowledge that surpasses mental cognition. It is a spiritual knowledge, one imprinted within us by God from before we were born. In our hearts we know, and we know firsthand, that God is our Father and that we are His children. We know that He is good, and that we are good, too. We know that He loves us, and that He wants us to be with Him. We know that He is happy, and that He desires us to be happy, too. These are eternal truths, and the direct knowledge of them are our most precious possession.
Indeed, when I consider how deeply rooted this knowledge is within me–so much more than anything else–I find it hard to accept that I know anything else at all.
3 thoughts on “What Sort of Disciple Are You?- Socrates and the Buddha”
Was Socrates a Buddhist?
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There are certainly some interesting similarities between the two of them. Socrates famously stressed that too many of us live unexamined lives, not paying close attention to our own causes and effects. Buddha similarly urged his followers to develop a state of mindfulness, to meditate on the self and find powerful truths therein.
Each of them even used a similar teaching method: negative statements. They found it was easier to say what something was not, thus leading the listener to understand that the truth from what remained.
According to some estimates, Socrates and Buddha would have been born within 10 years of each other, and died within 1. It’s an interesting thought, whether the world’s philosophical understanding was being revolutionized on both sides of the globe at the same time by these two giants!
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