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Plato, Buddha and Augustine

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When thinking of Plato, Buddha and Augustine, the initial thought is that they are very different people with very different ideas of the world. While this is true, there is a constant theme between the three of them, that being the path to a happy fulfilling life and how this makes for a better world for all of humanity. The world these men lived in changed in many great ways, but what can be said is that they all dealt with the same problems. How does one create a better life for themselves, and if implemented by everyone, change the humanity for the better? It might be helpful to first look at what time these thinkers lived, and how the context of the world around them may have affected their outlook and teachings.

Athens, 2400 years ago. It is a rather small place, only about 250,000 people live there. There are fine theatres, temples, shopping arcades and gymnasiums. It is also home to the world’s first true, and probably greatest, philosopher – Plato. Born into a wealthy and prominent family in the city, Plato devoted his life to helping people to reach a state of what he termed “eudemonia”, which means fulfillment or "human flourishing". Plato wrote 36 books, all of them being dialogues. These dialogues are beautifully crafted scripts of imaginary discussions. Some of these books include the Symposium, the Republic, the Laws, the Meno and the Apology.

Plato had four big ideas for making life more fulfilled. The first big idea is to think more. We rarely give ourselves time to think logically about our lives and how to lead them. Sometimes, we just go along with what the Greeks called “Doxa”, which loosely translates to “a common belief or popular opinion”. In the 36 books he wrote, Plato showed this idea to be full of errors, prejudice and superstition. Examples of Doxa can be thoughts like, “follow your heart” or “if one has fame and fortune, they will live a happy life”. The problem is popular tends to lean towards the wrong values, careers and relationships. Plato’s answer is to ‘know yourself’. This would be something like thinking carefully about a particular decision, rather than acting on impulse. If one strengthens their self-knowledge, they don't get as manipulated by their emotions or feelings. He called this a “Socratic discussion”. One can have it internally or ideally, with another person who can clarify their own ideas.

The second big idea is to let your lover a change you. Today, people tend to think that finding a lover means finding someone who loves you the way you are, but Plato argues the opposite. Plato says true love is admiration. In other words, the person that best fits with another person is someone with good qualities which they themselves lack. By becoming close to someone a specific person wishes to be more like, they can more easily adopt those traits. In a good relationship, a couple shouldn’t love each other exactly as they are right now. They should be committed to educating and supporting each other throughout this learning process.

Plato’s third big idea centers around the true message of beauty. Everyone has a tendency to enjoy beautiful things, but Plato was among the first to ask, “why?”. He concluded that these beautiful things speak to us on a subconscious level about what we are missing in our lives. For instance, we can say a large suspension bridge is attractive and awe inspiring because it embodies strength, something that we could potentially need more of in our life. Plato sees art as a type of therapy. This means that painters, film makers, dancers and musicians all play an important role in helping us understand the true nature of life.

Plato’s fourth and final idea is about the reform of society. Plato spent much of his time thinking about how government and society in an ideal world would behave. He was the worlds first “utopian thinker”. He was very much inspired by Athens rival, Sparta. Sparta was a machine that had perfected the act of creating the ideal soldier. Everything that Spartans did was centered around that goal, and because of this, Sparta was almost perfect when it came to military. That being said, Plato was not concerned about how to create a powerful military, but a culmination of people who were instead powerful in their personal fulfillment and happiness. In Plato’s book “The Republic”, he goes into great depth about the changes that would have to be made for this to be possible. Plato noted that Athenians looked up to celebrities much in the same way we do today. Modern culture glorifies celebrities, full of flaws in character. Plato wanted to replace these celebrities with new ones he called “Guardians”. Guardians would be wise and intelligent people, the perfect role model for the development of the self. Under the Guardians would be the “Auxiliaries”. These people would be the military for Plato’s perfect society. Auxiliaries would be the strongest and most fit to fight out of the society. Under them would be the craftsmen and producers. They would be the financial and economic support, as well as providing the goods and services that would find their way up the chain of status. All people within Plato’s society would inherently hold true to the previous three rules, thus making what Plato thought to be a perfect world, free of suffering.

The life of the Buddha is a story about confronting suffering. Buddha was born sometime between six and fourth century B.C as the son of a wealthy king in Himalayan foothills of Nepal. It was prophesied that the young Buddha, who went by the name Siddhārtha Gautama, would either become a very holy man, or the Emperor of India. Since Gautama’s father desperately wanted him to become the latter, he kept the child is isolated in a palace. Young Gautama had every imaginable luxury. Jewels, servants, even beautiful dancing women. For 29 years Gautama lived in bliss, protected from the smallest misfortunes of the outside world. This remained true until he began leaving the palace for short excursions. He was amazed at the amount of torment and suffering in the outside world. First he met a sick man, then an ageing man and then a dying man. He was astounded to discover that these unfortunate people represented the inevitable parts of the human condition, of which he would one day undergo. Horrified and fascinated, he made another trip outside the palace walls. Gautama met a holy man who had learned to seek spiritual life in the midst of the vastness of human suffering. Inspired by the holy man, he left the palace never to return. He tried to learn from other holy men, and in the process almost starved himself to death by avoiding all physical comfort as the holy men did. Unsurprisingly, it didn't bring Gautama solace from suffering. Soon after, he thought of the moment when he was a small boy. Sitting by the river, he noticed

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