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Stefano Grillo

Buddhism and Platonism

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I am quite new to Buddhism but I am beginning to understand that one of the fondamental ideas is that we are always deluded due to the hindrances, and never seethings as they actually are except after experiencing jhanas. This seems to me in some ways like Plato's simile of the cave, in which people chained to their seat see shadows on the wall and mistake them for reality. Plato also thought that reality was not accessiblle to the realm of the five senses, though unlike the Buddha he did think that there was a permanent reality (the essences). Has anyone investigated the connections and differences between Buddhism and Platonism or has any thoughts on this?
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  1. Rory Hudson's Avatar
    At the time of Plato, which was not so long after the time of the Buddha, there was quite a bit of trade between India and Greece. No doubt there was an exchange of ideas as well. Plato may well have been influenced by Buddhist ideas. He also believed, as did Pythagoras, in a kind of reincarnation, although it seems to have been more akin to the Hindu theory than to Buddhist doctrines.
  2. Stefano Grillo's Avatar
    Thanks Rory, this is very interesting. I have often wondered about the similarities between the ancient Greek world and the Buddha's teaching. For example once when meditating following Ajahn Brahm's instructions my mind became so serene and filled with so much light that I later thought that the only (remotely) comparable experience I had had in my life had been after contemplating some of the great Greek art or after reading some of the Greek thinkers. With metta. Stef
  3. Rory Hudson's Avatar
    Beyond what can be explained in words there is the inexpressible. This can be known in religion and art through the serene mind. Seems like you are well on your way there!

    With metta
  4. Stefan Van Cappellen's Avatar
    well plato had a cave, nowadays he might have called it a computersimilation instead of shades. the thing is we can only report about the world from our own frame of view but usually it will be colored. what the buddha did was using introspection/meditation while clearing delusions from his mind to understand who it was which made him see the reality but as you said somewhere that you're a 'scientist' you might also check what science has to say on the subject. i found this bbc documentary about 'consciousness' very interesting for example:

  5. Rory Hudson's Avatar
    Thanks for the interesting link. Its relation to rebirth is tangential, I think, but its relation to anatta is pretty clear.
  6. Stefano Grillo's Avatar
    thanks Stefan for this link; I found in particular the last experiment - showing that we become conscious of our decisions after having made them - really interesting (and a bit scary too!) - it is in complete agreement with the Buddhist teaching that willing is just a process (which indeed disappears in jhanas) rather than something that an 'I' does. So like Rory said, it illustrates anatta clearly. However I don't think that I agree with the assumption which seems to be made by neuroscientists, according to which the mind is so to speak an 'emanation' of the brain. I am not sure if I understand the idea of the khandas correctly, but I think of them as five irreducible processes, so that the fifth 'khanda', consciuosness (vinnana), for example, cannot be 'explained' or 'reduced' to the brain, which would belong to the first 'khanda' of 'rupa' (though of course they are unquestionably related in some way). Any thoughts on this difficults subjest would be welcome... With metta Stef
  7. Rodolfo Rivas's Avatar
    Hi Stefano,

    I think you are already pointing out the main difference, in the allegory Plato describes that we see shadows projected by real things or essences while in buddhism there is no essence, as it is all a result of causes and supporting conditions. There is no real, ideal or permanent essence to project a shadow. Even our experience or consciousness who perceives the shadow is the result of the five aggregates, not real per se.

    That is how I understand it.

    With Mettaa,

  8. Stefan Van Cappellen's Avatar
    well stefano,

    i'm studying to become a bioengineering after a weird enough life and i'd say that there are all sorts of tiny organisms who seem to make decisions while science has not discovered any neural structures for them. there are even plants with a visible tactile reaction to touch but ...
    it's also clear that the more complex organisms all do have a brain and that damage to that brain has an effect in behavior. now according to buddhism that's because the brain acts like some sort of an interface and the monks point to some indeed existing unexplained cases where serious brain damage did not have that much effect. one way or another these findings are not clear enough for me to 'make up my mind' about it.

    however i find the findings in quantumphysics interesting myself. i'm not one of those mathematics wizzards myself :p -i found somewhere ajahn brahm was a quantumphysicist before he became a monk- but i've seen enough documentaries and read quite a lot and there seem to be indications that we're living in a realm where some sort of law of 'your perception influences reality even in a physical way', well at least on that scale of elemental particles.
    anyway most people 'know' this thing: before the big bang there was an incredible mass without any dimension or... i'd just call it 'nothing' :p and suddenly -with or without some sort of divine act- there was a universe ... equally emazing: most people just seem to accept such a wild theory without much consideration. i'd say that last part is allready scary enough :D

    if you're interested in that sort of quantumphysical insights then there's the 'through the wormhole' series from the science channel available on the web.

    with metta,
  9. Stefano Grillo's Avatar
    Hi Stefan,
    thanks for your message. I am interested in the cases you mention where serious brain damage did not have much effect on consciousness, so in case you have more information please let me know.
    Yes Ajahn Brahm studied theoretical physics at Cambridge, and in fact I did too (many years after him... ;-) ) and did my undergraduate dissertation precisely on the question of measurement in quantum physics: it is quite interesting because there are some basic philosophical paradoxes at the basis of QM, since it is only with a measurement (ie when observing reality) that the wavefunction describing qunatum particles collapses, so yes your observation influences the quantum particles you observe.
    But actually the first thing that I liked about Ajahn Brahm is precisely the fact that he quickly became disullusioned with academics, because he observed that they are just as unhappy as other people (if not more unhappy). Unfortunately I did not realise that as quickly as he did, so I stayed on at Cambrdige to do a PhD, then started an academic career in France, always thinking that eventually, sometime in the future, I'd be completely fullfilled thanks to all this hard work (EXACTLY like he said in today's talk which I have just seen broadcast). So, one of the reasons why I like AB is not that he studies theoretical physics, but precisely because he quickly gave it up...real wisdom on how to live a happy life is elsewhere :-)
    With metta,
  10. Stefan Van Cappellen's Avatar
    hehe i think i know what you mean. Eckhart tolle also gave up his ademic studies because he felt miserable and spent a few years on a bench in some park in londen afterward. however looks like he's doing fine now :p
    actually i heard ajahm brahm talk about some brilliant mathematician who happened to have only half of a brain (or similar, i'm not that sure anymore) but here's a link to one of those cases where the braindamage is disproportionally way higher than the effect it had (note however the remarks given by the professor):


    with metta,
  11. Stefano Grillo's Avatar
    Thanks. Yes I know of Eckhart Tolle and used to listen to some of his talks before knowing Ajahn Brahm, though I don't really now since AB seems to me to be totally authentic... I think that ET spent some time at Amaravati besides being on park benches, since much of what he says can be found in Ajahn Sumedho's talks for example. With metta, Stef
    Updated 11th-May-2013 at 04:46 PM by Stefano Grillo
  12. Stefan Van Cappellen's Avatar
    if you want to take the view on delusions and suffering from plato's cave to a next level you might want to check the talks of Robina Courtin (yes it's supposedly tibetan buddhism but it's often hardly noticeable in her 'tough but straight forward' style :p)
    Updated 27th-May-2013 at 05:33 AM by Stefan Van Cappellen
  13. Stefano Grillo's Avatar
    Thanks Stefan I'll check it out tomorrow but I had a quick look already and I like her style. Best, Stef