Tuesday, May 26, 2020

An Extremely Brief Introduction to Platonism

Platonism is a spiritual or religious or soteriological system that offers a path to release from the endless cycle of reincarnation and its concomitant misery. It belongs to a family of such systems, comprising Hinduism, Jainism, Buddhism, Orphism, Pythagoreanism, and Platonism, that all accept the facts of reincarnation, the cycle of repeated birth and death, that this works by karma, that this state is wretched and painful and unsatisfactory and a fallen and mistaken condition, and that it is possible through great and correctly directed effort to be released permanently from this state. All these systems consider that the path to this release consists of renunciation, asceticism, detachment, celibacy, vegetarianism and non-harming, abstinence from alcohol and intoxicants, study, and meditation or spiritual exercises. Platonism differs from the others, as they do from each other, in its metaphysics, its description of reality and how it relates to the spiritual path, the nature of release or the condition of having attained the freedom of the goal of the path, the texts that it takes for study, its exact method of implementing the required behavioral and ascetic practices, and its methods of meditation and spiritual exercises. It also differs from the other systems in never having been or become an organized institutional religion or church for the many, in never having had an institutionalized monastic order, in not having devotional or ritual or magical practices to accommodate the non-philosophical many, in not having costumes or ceremonies or holidays and so forth, and in never allowing its ascetic practitioners to become priests/mediators for the populace. In other words, Platonism has never developed a popular religion in addition to or as its central message. It always has been, and remains, a narrow way limited to a philosophical, intellectual, and spiritual elite, for those few who are able and willing to follow its highly morally, spiritually, ascetically, contemplatively, and mentally demanding path and practice.

The texts that Platonism studies, that form the Platonist ‘scriptures’, so to speak, are the Dialogues of Plato and the Enneads of Plotinus. It implements its most stringent moral and ascetic standards and practices purely, with discernment, and without legalism, extensive legal codes, extensive lists of rules devolving down to the level of manners and customs, and trying to exhaustively catalog specific regulations for every particular circumstance that could be encountered in a given relative environment, and, of course, without the extensive prescriptions for ritual and ceremonial practice that preoccupy many other systems. Its meditation and contemplation practices consist in coming to understand the workings of things at the level of soul, ascending to contemplation of the actual Platonic Forms and the Divine Mind, and finally ascending to contemplation of and union with the One or the Good, which is the final release and goal.

The Platonist system or description of reality consists of three existential or experiential levels or degrees of reality that are called the three hypostases. In descending order, from first to last, and from most real to least real, these are the One or the Good, the Divine Mind and the Platonic Forms, and Soul. The One or the Good is the Absolute, the utterly Transcendent, the Unity, the Source, the purest noumenon, “God”, the source and origin and fount of all things, from which all things come but which Itself comes from nothing else, and which remains always unchanged as all else emanates from It. The Divine Mind-Thought, Nous, emanates from the One and is the second most real and perfect thing. It is one unitary divine mind with its objects with which it is neither different nor identical. The objects or thoughts of the single divine mind are the Platonic Ideas or Forms or Archetypes or Things-in-themselves, which, again, are not different or outside the one Mind. This level is a one-many, not a pure unity like the One. Though dynamic and active, it is still unchanging and still transcends, is beyond, time and space. The third level of existence is that of soul, both the World Soul or Soul of the All and all the individual souls of individual sentient beings both human and non-human. This is the level of changing, impermanent, differentiated sensory experience, of space and time, of separate individuals, of cyclic individuated sensate spatio-temporal existence, of the cycle of reincarnation, and of karma. Though still divinely ordered by the World Soul, it is the level of suffering, misery, unsatisfactoriness, and endless rebirth in time and space and change for individual souls. This is the level at which we find ourselves now, and that we must transcend and escape from back to the higher hypostases from which we have fallen. To ordinary people and animals, this seems to be the only real and true level (especially now in the naturalist modern world where so many deny transcendence altogether or have never even heard or conceived of it and think that the sensory world is all that there is), but actually it is the least true and least real. It is the level of mere opinion, not of true knowledge, which is of the higher levels.

The Platonist practitioner and ascetic works to transcend this lowest level of individual soul and escape from it and the cycle of reincarnation dictated by karma and return to and re-become the higher hypostases. Since the soul is imprisoned in the body and sensory existence and takes these things as real, he or she renounces all sensory things and things and activities of this world as much as possible and devotes him- or herself solely to transcendent and divine things alone, to things of the soul, not things of the body and its desires and emotions. Thus, he is celibate and teetotaling (not deliberately dulling his divine soul with intoxicants) and abstains from worldly pleasures as much as possible, is a true ascetic and renunciant. He aims at conforming to the true paradigmatic virtues in the noetic realm (the second hypostasis) and so cultivates all moral virtue and non-harming. He is vegan, completely honest, doesn’t obtain the necessities of life in a way that harms any beings, is kind and gentle, etc. Through study of the Dialogues of Plato and the Enneads of Plotinus, and ancillary works, and reflection, he gains an understanding of the nature of things here at the level of soul and how they work, an idea of what the higher hypostases must be like and of their utter transcendence, of how to live virtuously and ascetically, and of the nature of the Path and what it entails and how to practice it. Then, with all this as a base, he devotes himself to contemplation practice to attain direct noetic apprehension of the Platonic Forms and transfer his soul to the level of and unity with the second hypostasis, the Divine Mind-Thought. Finally, established here at the second level, he devotes himself even further and vigorously to contemplation practice to directly touch and apprehend the One, the Good, and eventually attain complete and permanent re-union with and re-identification with It. This is the release from the cycle of birth and death and the final goal. All this is most difficult and is likely to take many lifetimes and rebirths, with many years of hard work to make some progress in any given birth.

Given the non-institutional, individual, transcendent, and transhistorical nature of the Platonist system and practice, and its lack of dependence on particular worldly structures, the Platonist ascetics, the philosophoi, are rather less likely to leave traces in the historical record. We are most fortunate that the Dialogues and Enneads have been preserved, but if many other Platonist ascetics left any written records, many things were lost or destroyed when Christianity and Islam came to power with their intolerance of anything else and their attempt to destroy all other writings. There has never been a time when the Dialogues and Enneads were not being read, even in the original Greek, from antiquity, through Byzantium, into the Renaissance and modernity, and there couldn’t have been actual Platonist contemplatives, but once Christianity and Islam took over, any such would have had to remain hidden at the cost of their lives. Nonetheless, Platonism has greatly influenced the Abrahamic systems, and the Jewish, Islamic, and, especially, Christian mystical systems owe a great deal to and and in some cases are even largely based on Platonism. After Plotinus, but before the final suppression of all non-Abrahamic practices, some teachers and people, such as Iamblichus and Proclus, who considered themselves Platonists, but departed thoroughly from the actual Platonic system, attempted to incorporate polytheistic, ritual, theurgic, and magical practices and thought into Platonism and make it more like the other popular religions. Unfortunately, most of the few modern people who have attempted to revive some sort of Platonist practice have fallen in with and follow these later ideas or those of the conscious incorporation of into or blending with Judaism, Christianity, or Islam.

Ⓒ 2020 Eric S. Fallick

Friday, April 3, 2020

Q. and A. on the Relation of the Lower and Higher Virtues

Q. I have a question about Ennead I.2, On Virtues. Plotinus argues that the higher virtues are not the same as the civic virtues; though he considers the civic virtues important to establish for the spiritual quest. And Plotinus further states that the ultimate is unlike its emanations (I'm paraphrasing). To understand this I use metaphors like a blueprint for a house. The actual blueprint is not like the house: you can sleep in the house or eat in it, etc. The two, in that sense, are not alike. And absent an intelligence that can interpret the blueprint the house would not come into existence. It is, then, the intelligence as such that transforms the higher virtues (and the forms?) into material actualities. There is a relationship between higher, purificatory, virtues and civic virtues; but not one of likeness. You could say there is a causal relationship, as long as one is not talking about causation in a physical sense.

Another metaphor I think of is music on a page. The page with its notes and additional apparatus are not the music when it is performed. The music is sonic, the music on the page is a visual and material object. Yet the music generates, is the occasion for, the sonic display. And it can be the occasion for numerous such displays and these displays may differ (different singers, different instruments, etc.).

Does this kind of metaphorical understanding fit with your own?


A. I have some reservations, frankly, about the metaphors that you ask about for the relationship between the paradigmatic virtues in the noetic realm and the constitutional or civic virtues in this world, and between the Forms and the things here participating in them. I'm afraid that the metaphors of the blueprint and the music score make it sound like the paradigmatic forms are less actual and less fully developed than the sensory manifestations and are static in the sense of not being alive and needing something else to make them alive and real and actualized. Actually, just the opposite is the case. The Forms, be they those of the virtues or any other, are incomparably more real, alive, vivid, actual, dynamic--though in another sense eternal and never changing--than the phantom manifestations participating in or manifesting them to a degree in this world. They live their own eternal life, so to speak, unchanging yet dynamic, in mutual self-definition with the Divine Mind and the other Forms, in a luminous noetic realm sufficient to itself depending only on the higher hypostasis of the Good, independent of and not needing and unconcerned with the lower emanation level of soul and the sensory spatio-temporal world. The phantom reflections of them here are really more dead and dependent and parasitic on the noetic Forms for such half-existence as they have. They only seem so real and usable and actualized to us because we are stuck here and are really only phantoms ourselves as long as we remain in this state as souls stuck transmigrating in individuated sensate existence in space-time. Perhaps, a more effective metaphor or analogy along the lines of those you have suggested would be that of a movie being projected out on a screen. The whole movie is always there in concentrated form all at once and is really there. The projected pictures, illuminated through the light of the Good behind, are unfolded seeming to have a more actualized but fleeting and very impermanent existence to the deceived viewers and at any moment present some but not all of the features possessed in constant and compressed form all the time in the movie reel itself.

Another metaphor might be that of someone seeing actual real objects while awake and seeing them more or less as they actually are, and then going to sleep and dreaming where impressions derived from the waking vision appear in various more or less distorted form in the dreams where they are taken now as real things.

Specifically regarding the virtues, the paradigmatic noetic virtues in nous indeed aren't in the same way as the practical virtues here. It is hard for me to put into words, but they exist there as like self-sufficient, independent yet mutually dependent and reflecting in the architecture of the noetic realm, concentrated, luminous jewel-Ideas of each virtue. Then, when souls at this lower level are practicing the practical virtues here, they are sort of organizing and ordering themselves and things and actions here so that states of soul and actions will occur that in unfolding in space-time will try in a way to reconstruct or reproduce over space and time as best as they can a reflection and approximation of what the actual paradigmatic virtue is in itself in the noetic realm, and these are what are called the constitutional/civic/practical virtues. Of course, most people, almost all, are only groping in the dark and guessing at the real virtues, approximating from other approximations and imperfect reflections in this world to arrive at the approximation of the virtue. The rare (to say the least!) philosophos/Platonist contemplative ascetic will view the actual paradigmatic virtue/Form in the noetic realm in contemplation and try to remember or look to that directly in practicing the practical virtues here and trying to conform them to the Idea itself. Everyone, of course, needs to try their best to practice and know how to practice the practical/civic virtues, including contemplative ascetics, but then the contemplative ascetics further practice the 'purificatory' virtues that involve turning away from this world and renouncing it entirely as best they can and are practices better modeled after their divine noetic paradigms that not only order the soul and actions to try to reflect those paradigms while remaining entirely of and in this world like the civic virtues and those of ordinary people, but order them to turn them from this world back to the noetic realm. Finally, they can, at least in contemplation practice, try to just rest in the contemplation of and union with the divine noetic paradigms themselves. (I like this quote I recently saw from a late 11th/early 12th c. Latin Christian monk Guibert of Nogent who apparently defined vices as "motions of the mind toward earthly things".)

Anyway, I hope this answers your question at least somewhat.

Sunday, January 12, 2020

The Cave and Buddhist Pasts

An understanding or insight came to me to help me better understand two seemingly different things that I was not altogether clear about for some time. The two things are how to understand the fire and the objects being moved along the wall with the people moving them also talking in the cave in the Parable of the Cave in the Republic and how to understand my Buddhist practice and realization in this and previous births (and my practice and realization in other related systems in other previous births) in relation to the Path and Platonist practice. I have always found the Parable of the Cave extremely important and powerful, but never understood the part about the fire and objects in the cave and the prisoner initially having to look at them and see them as more real than the shadows, with great pain and difficulty, before proceeding to actually move out of the cave. I now see that the fire, which plays a somewhat analogous role in the cave to the sun/the Good outside of the cave, represents the individuated soul at the samsaric/genesic/space-time/changing level, the center of experience/consciousness/awareness, the mind and true mind, which at some level at bottom is connected to the One, comes from the One, the Source of all consciousness and experience. (Recall the individual soul centers in Ennead 6.9 that are all connected to the true center of the One.) The objects being moved along the wall and the people moving them represent the various karmic acts and thoughts of different souls that are illuminated by the true mind or conscious center or soul, including the world-soul, to be projected out as our experience of the sense world, including ourselves in it, as the shadows and echoes on the cave wall. All this is entirely within the cave. Even when the newly released prisoner is finally able to look at the fire and the moving objects and people and understand what is actually going on and that this is more what the shadows actually are and is more real, it is still all just inside the cave and he still hasn't yet moved out into the real world outside. I have long explained an important and vital difference between Platonist practice and contemplation and that of the other related systems, by putting it that the other Indo-hellenistic systems in general, e.g., Chan and related forms of at least Mahayana metaphysics based Buddhist meditation, Advaita Vedanta, at least some forms of Jaina meditation, Orphism even, and etc., all teach and are about just withdrawing into the subject, turning the light of the mind back onto itself and such various expressions. Platonist contemplation, on the other hand, involves not only withdrawing into the subject, but bringing both subject and object up together into the noetic realm where subject and object are distinguished but not separated, and finally into the One where they are not distinguished at all. You will note, for example, that in the Phaedo the soul does not only just withdraw into itself alone but does so in and for contemplation of the Forms and that this constitutes its true collection and withdrawal and when it is in this condition it is always in contact with the real beings and contemplating them. In other words, in the other systems the soul or mind or awareness withdraws from objects to focus on or turn back to itself, recognizing only half or the subjective side of Reality, and realization consists in, to use as an example just one of the many forms of expression, in this case from Chan, "seeing the nature", seeing the center of the soul where it connects to the One, but thinking that this is the actual Absolute or fundamental Reality Itself, whereas it is actually only the derived or emanated soul center or a shadow or image of the Good. In Platonism, on the other hand, the soul, through withdrawal from the whole sensate phenomenal level and recollecting the Forms shifts its whole and all of being back up to Nous or the noetic realm, shifting or identifying itself with Nous and its objects with the Forms, the two not actually being separate and being mutually dependent or co-arising, and realization consists in moving, initially, to this whole higher and more real level of Nous/the Forms and then from there to the ultimate highest level of the One, where there is only One and Good, and final release is attained. Thus, the practice of the other systems is only turning to look at the fire and the objects and moving people in the cave and their realization is to be able to finally look straight at the fire and see it and the objects and people clearly. They think that this is the end and release, but it, while certainly a big step compared to the chained prisoners who only know the shadows and echoes and think that they are all there is, is still just entirely within the cave and they haven't even left it at all. The practice of Platonism, though preliminarily seeing and understanding the fire and all within the cave, is to actually go out of the cave and see first the images of the objects there and then the things there themselves and finally to be able to look directly at the sun and this is its realization and understanding, which is true final release from becoming. When I consider my many years of Buddhist practice and even realization prior to becoming a Platonist and practicing Platonist contemplation, I have in the past been puzzled how to quite fit that into my present askesis and understanding, especially in terms of realization experiences in the course of Buddhist practice. I now see, however, that all this and even the realizations attained was just turning to look at the fire and the objects casting the shadows and getting to be able to look at them--an important step in the very long journey through thousands of births and lifetimes to release from becoming, but still only within the cave--and it is now time to get on with actual progress towards getting out of the cave altogether, seeing the real things out there and the sun, etc. (already actually intermittently begun at some occasions in some previous births) and real ultimate realization and release. I think that this also goes a long way in explaining some of the differences in the other different systems and why even what are supposed to be the realized adepts and texts of the other systems often seem to still be caught up in and involved with particular relative reality systems and versions thereof. Even if they have seen the fire and the passing objects, they are still in the cave and still enmired in the particular configuration of passing objects in their cave not having seen the true archetypes of the Forms, still having known only that set of particulars not the universals. They are still in their particular hollow in the lower earth not having popped up at all yet to see the true earth, in the expression of the Phaedo muthos.

Friday, September 13, 2019

The Reason for Asceticism

Q. I've read a few chapters of your book, and it has prompted me to think more about asceticism, attempting to answer the question: Why is asceticism important and even necessary for the moral and spiritual development of the person? In short, what is the reason for asceticism? 
At this stage, my understanding is that asceticism functions to counteract the cause of our corporeal existence. When the nous fell or broke from unity, there must have been some initial movement, creating the momentum to cause the nous to fall or precipitate from the Good to the lesser, temporal goods (and evils) of mortal and bodily existence. This initial movement was an act of carelessness or negligence with regard to the nous and its unity with the Good. The nous carelessly and negligently turned away from unity to multiplicity in order to pursue individuation, which divided the nous into nous, soul, and body. 
Asceticism is carefulness and thoughtfulness (the antithesis of negligence) functioning as a therapy or antidote or the application of justice to the careless and negligent movement of the nous away from the One, underpinning a process of purification via the instrument of the body that removes the passions from the soul, and allowing in turn for the recovery and return of the nous to unity. 
I was wondering if you could comment on this, confirm my understanding, or correct it in any way? 
A. Thank you for reading some of my book. I don't know if you have read or will get to some of the other essays that explain more of the reason for asceticism, though most of them do in one way or another, and also point out that asceticism is not just instrumental, but the very manifestation or reflection of the Good in this world. In the divine Plato, the Phaedo, especially, among the dialogs, gives extensively the rationale for asceticism, though parts of others do also, and much of the Enneads also explains this (in relation particularly to what you say, see, eg., the beginning of Ennead 5.1). 
I wouldn't say that what you say is incorrect, though I wouldn't say that it is the whole story. One thing I would 'correct', since you ask, is where you say "...purification via the instrument of the body...". I would say, rather, that asceticism is purification from the body, not using the body as an instrument, but rather having as little to do with it (and the sense world) as possible. As you indicate, the fall of the soul is from unity, the Good/One and Nous into cyclic individuated sensate existence in space-time, into the cycle of repeated reincarnation and sensory/bodily existence, and this we have to get free from and return to just being Nous and the One only. To do this, we have to turn the soul, and the whole soul, back around 180 degrees from looking and being in the direction of this lowest darkest least real level of multiplicity and individuated temporal-spatial quasi-existence to looking only at and being only in (and this is the only true being) Nous and the Good. Being involved with the body and the things of this world and pursuing the things of the senses and sensual pleasures and the things of this world of every kind and in every sense is exactly being in the fallen state and pursuing it further and running ever deeper into it and birth and death and looking towards and having the soul turned towards the darkness. Asceticism, having as little to do with the body and the sense world as possible, just doing the minimum necessary to keep the psycho-physical organism going until we can be rid of it, being unconcerned with sensual pleasures, dealing with and seeking only those things of this world minimally necessary for survival, and voluntarily being concerned only with the 
things of the soul and the divine, turning the whole soul as much as possible from the body and sense things to look at and strive for the higher hypostases, is this very process of turning from this fall into and state of becoming back to Nous and the One. This also points towards why I say that asceticism isn't just instrumental, isn't just a means that has to be justified. The highly accomplished contemplative, but who still is bearing his last body and not completely done yet until he is completely free from body, sensory experience, individuation, and being at all in this 'material' world and becoming, would be permanently turned back to Nous and the One except for such minimal attention as still being embodied for a while yet more requires for maintaining the remaining psychophysical existence, and couldn't give more attention to and be concerned with this world and especially sensual pleasures, possessions, etc., etc. than that even if he tried. Not being an ascetic would be not being a contemplative, would be being back in bondage, would be being back an ordinary worldling again. Contemplation and asceticism necessarily go together, are two aspects of the same process, two sides of one coin. Sensual and worldly indulgence and involvement is the exact opposite of contemplation and spiritual practice and moves the soul in the exact opposite direction. One, the soul, can only move in one direction at a time, so there is simply the choice of either pursuing sensual pleasures and worldly things and anti-contemplation and going deeper into bondage and binding oneself tighter to the wheel of birth and death, or renouncing this world and the things of this world and the senses and pursuing asceticism and contemplation hand in hand and going towards freedom from becoming and re-union with Nous and the One. 
I hope that this answers your request for comment a little. It could be a lot to go into in thorough detail and in all aspects. Incidentally, your question sort of reminded me a little of how completely different my way of looking at things, and that of true contemplative ascetics generally, if there are any now, is from that of the world and worldlings, especially now in this modern brave new world. Contemplative asceticism, renunciation, is the obvious necessity and fact and true way and only life that is really life--this seems so obvious and the reasons so clear that the rationale hardly needs to be rehearsed--the burden of proof would be on those who might claim that asceticism and renunciation isn't the way and for any worldlings who would attempt to justify their way, though it would, of course, be impossible for them to do so and they and their thoughts are not in any way in accord with Reality! 

Friday, July 26, 2019

These Writings Now Available in Book Form

The essays, pieces, and translations on this blogspot site up to this date are now available in printed book form from lulu.com and all the regular online retail booksellers.  The full information:  Eric Fallick, Platonist Contemplative Asceticism:  Practice and Principle, ISBN 978-0-359-77301-5.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Platonist Contemplative Asceticism in the Present Day

Platonist Contemplative Asceticism in the Present Day

By Eric S. Fallick

We find ourselves separated from the One, the Good and trapped in the cycle of repeated birth and death in individuated sensate existence in space-time, in genesis, in becoming, with all its attendant and intrinsic misery and pain. Under these circumstances, the only at all sane and joyful thing to do is to strive single-mindedly and exclusively, as much as possible, to attain release from the cycle of reincarnation, liberation, and re-union with the Good, to re-become the One. How is this to be done? There is only one way, that of thorough renunciation of the world and exclusive devotion to asceticism and contemplation, as incomprehensible and incredible and uncongenial as this may be to the deluded worldlings of this modern brave new world where the whole idea of true renunciation and contemplative asceticism has almost been completely lost and so few are left who really understand and are willing to follow the Path.

What does this renunciation and practice entail? There are some essential and indispensable minimum requirements. Celibacy, literally and completely and in its fullest and broadest sense, is a first requirement and dividing line from the worldly life. Essential also is vegetarianism, or, preferably, veganism. This includes not only not eating any animals or anything derived from animals, but also non-harming in all respects, including not wearing leather, not using any animal products, not killing insects, and, in general, not harming or killing any sentient beings at all, human or animal, in any way as much as possible. Also necessary is complete teetotalling or abstinence from alcohol or any other intoxicants or intoxicating non-medicinal drugs of any sort. Complete honesty in all one’s speech and dealings is, of course, necessary, as contrary as it actually runs to the way of the world. One also should not earn one’s living or gain necessary worldly survival items by any means that harms other beings physically, morally, or spiritually. Being completely devoted to spiritual practice, one should avoid attending worldly entertainments, watching television and movies, etc. One should also avoid attending worldly social events, engaging in idle worldly talk, etc. as much as possible in one’s individual circumstances. In general, the principle is to be totally and exclusively devoted to and engaged in spiritual practice and study, beyond what is minimally necessary to maintain this psycho-physical existence until we can be rid of it in final liberation, and to avoid all worldly things and activities and engagements. The individual needs to work out the exact details of what to do in each situation and in their own particular circumstances with understanding, sincerity, and discernment and in accordance with the essential principle of renunciation and the desire to be solely devoted to attaining release and re-union. An extensive or exhaustive list of individual detailed rules is unnecessary and ineffective and only leads to legalism and self-deception and obsessive-compulsiveness.

Established and continually further establishing oneself in full renunciation as the practice progresses, doing the best one can and always working for the renunciant ideal in accordance with the necessities of one’s circumstances and minimum psycho-physical survival, study and meditative reading is also an important and valuable part of the Path. The dialogues of Plato (starting with and especially the Phaedo) and the Enneads of Plotinus (and, allegorically understood, the Odyssey of Homer), supplemented by such works as the Dissertations of Maximus of Tyre, Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy, etc. are the principal texts for reading and study, but much can also be learned from the different texts of the different systems. In general, I think that wide study of and working knowledge of the different ascetic, renunciant, monastic, contemplative, and mystical spiritual systems of the world is quite helpful and useful, especially in the circumstances of the present time. To be able to read the essential texts in the original Ancient Greek, though a non-trivial endeavor to say the least, is also helpful as translations cannot be relied upon and are always missing something.
With renunciation and knowledge, one can devote oneself to the actual practice of formal sitting in contemplation. This is the central practice and focus of the contemplative ascetic and the core and thrust of the effort towards the One and out of becoming, and is how the contemplative ascetic spends the greater part of his time apart from all the necessary activities for psycho-physical survival. I have described Platonist contemplation practice in detail in The Practice of Contemplation and given beginning instructions in Q. and A.’s, including beginning meditation instructions. It is important to have a thorough knowledge and understanding of the practice of contemplation and of the texts on contemplation.

Hopefully, a reasonably clear picture has been given of the proper renunciant and contemplative ascetic life and what it entails. It is the life that is engaged with and involved with the world and worldly activities of any and every sort only to the minimum extent absolutely necessary to maintain the psycho-physical organism (and that always done only strictly in accord with the principles of morality, honesty, and non-harming) and totally and solely and sincerely devoted exclusively in intention and concern and, as much as possible, in deed to spiritual, ascetic, and contemplative practice to attain liberation from becoming and re-union with the One/Good. Something, however, more may be said about its practical implementation in the circumstances of the present day. People, as another symptom of becoming, genesis, and the delusion associated with it, tend to see renunciation and contemplative asceticism in terms of institutions, institutionalized monasticism, rituals, initiations, titles, uniforms, merit badges, etc. This is, of course, particularly the case in terms of organized, institutional cenobitical monasticism. Eremtical monasticism has always tended less in this direction, has usually been the original less structured form from which cenobitical monasticism has eventually evolved and has often later even been associated with a rejection of institutionalized forms and an attempt to return to original ideals, but the same tendencies tend to come in in people’s perceptions here also. In traditional societies, there has usually been at least some sort of niche or place and respect for renunciants and eremitical renunciants, but this is largely gone in the modern world. Platonism, while being the purest, most austere, most rigorous, and most otherworldly of renunciant and ascetic systems, has never had an institutionalized monastic structure and never become an institutionalized religion for the many. Thus, each Platonist contemplative ascetic and renunciant has always had to work out the particular and practical circumstances and logistical arrangements of his eremitical renunciant contemplative ascetic life and practice on his own, or with whatever few fellow travelers he might in some cases be fortunate enough to find, on a sort of ad hoc basis following and in strict adherence to the renunciant principles such as outlined above with care and discernment relying on his own developed understanding in his particular time and place and circumstances. He has often or generally had to do this without any of the financial, material, logistical, moral, social, psychological, or emotional support or props of the monastic institutions, cenobitical or eremitical, and institutionalized systems. Thus, this may still be done in implementing eremitical contemplative asceticism and renunciation in the adverse and unsupported time and place and circumstances of the present day.

In the atomized, anonymous, urban modern world, if one has sufficient devotion, determination, resolve, sincerity, understanding, and discernment, it is possible to practice devotedly and fully as an eremitical renunciant and contemplative ascetic alone and incognito and without support in the midst of the city. One can try to find a job or work of right livelihood to just earn the necessary minimum subsistence level income with a minimum of distraction. One can try to find simple minimum housing to rent even if it means sharing with worldlings while not doing anything they do and doing only one’s contemplative renunciant life. One can obtain and prepare simple food in a manner requiring a minimum amount of time and attention, considering only maintenance of the body and health, not taste. One can be purely celibate surrounded by women and pornographic and sex-obsessed society and culture. One can be vegan and non-harming surrounded by inter-species cannibals and killers. One can be teetotaling with drinkers and smokers and so forth all around. One can abstain completely from entertainments, including the ubiquitous electronic entertainments, among those who know little else. And so forth--one can be solely concerned with transcending this world and with the higher supra-sensory realities among worldlings who know nothing beyond the senses and the fleeting phantoms of this world. It is, of course, very difficult to do this, especially without any kind of support at all and especially in the procrustean modern society that has no place or respect for renunciants and presents all sorts of obstacles and difficulties to and discrimination against any who don’t fit into the norms of society. It presents all sorts of logistical headaches and great emotional and psychological hardship and loneliness (as the true renunciant life always does), but it is, at present, the only feasible and spiritually effective and viable option for pursuing the true wholly dedicated Platonist contemplative ascetic way and release from becoming, and this is all that really matters. As the Ancient Greek saying goes, “noble and beautiful things are difficult”.

Again, the principle, whatever the particular details of practical implementation for a given individual in a given time and place, is to totally renounce this world and the things of the senses as much as possible outwardly and inwardly in all respects and solely and exclusively as much as possible devote oneself in every way, in intention, desire and deed, to striving for re-union with the One, the Good, and release from becoming, genesis. One must turn both the love and eye of the soul completely around from this world of the senses and becoming to the One or the Good and bring all one’s life and actions and attitudes around in accord with this to the exact opposite of that of the worldlings and the world around one. This must be done even while all the time attending to the burdensome necessities of maintaining the psycho-physical organism until we can be rid of it and even if one is without any support at all--financial, physical, logistical, moral, spiritual, emotional, social, institutional, or psychological--in the quest. There simply is no other possible way to go and the thought of just wallowing in becoming in this and future births like all the worldlings around one cannot even be entertained even for an instant.

Ⓒ 2019 Eric S. Fallick

Sunday, January 27, 2019

A Note Regarding the 'Historical Socrates'

I personally have little interest in a supposed 'historical' Socrates, whatever meaning such an idea may even really have. The Socrates of the dialogs is just, to my mind, an allegorical symbol, in accordance with the overall nature of the dialogs as a whole. You will note that in the Enneads, although Plotinus quotes Plato a number of times, the only times he ever refers to Socrates is when he uses the name 'Socrates' as a generic example name for an arbitrary person, i.e., as "John Smith" or "John Doe"! I know that most people look to the dialogs as historical documents or records to whatever extent and, in accordance with their (exclusive) preoccupation with the sense world try to understand them as realist historical documents, but I take them just as spiritual documents. The purpose of great true spiritual texts like the dialogs and Enneads is not to provide sensory/sense world information relating to alleged past occurrences in some supposed realist past physical world, but to remind our souls of the spiritual truths they have forgotten (the Platonist teaching of learning as recollection solves a multitude of difficulties) and to practice them and leave and renounce this least real sense world and return to their true home. They are teaching us how to get out of the cave and reminding us what things look like in the light, not giving us information about shadows on the cave wall that are the exclusive concern of worldlings. Ultimately, all spiritual texts that we perceive are, like everything else, just experiences according to our karma with no philosophically realist referent--in this case, experiences of our karma lightening up so that the Absolute is beginning to shine through the sense world and leading us to remember and helping us to practice to get free. All that is real is the higher hypostases, their darkened trace manifesting as this world and the world soul, the underlying spiritual structure of Reality, and the movement of individual souls closer to or farther from the One in their long journey and revolution through countless births in samsara/genesis. Though we must, in our circumstances, of course, deal extensively and honestly with 'history', ultimately all so-called historical records and artifacts are just present manifestations and appearances and experiences in our sense fields with no actually realistic existing physical past referents. Almost no one seems to understand what I am talking about when I say such things, but perhaps even a little glimpse of the One Itself and regular contemplative experience of Nous may show one that this whole sense world of becoming is just a shadow or projection of the higher hypostases, with the least reality, and that all manner of possible combinations of projections or traces of the Forms form all sorts of different relative realities of experience of souls according to their karma.