Notes On Plato’s Euthyphro

At the outset of Plato’s Euthyphro, the pious Euthyphro is astonished to find Socrates at the Archon’s judicial court rather than hanging around the Lyceum where he usually spends his days. Socrates explains that he is being indicted by a young and unknown man named Meletus who claims Socrates is corrupting the youth by not believing in the gods and that he is creating new gods (Socrates regularly refers to a divine sign or daemon that guides him).

Euthyphro, on the other hand, is a religious zealot. He has come to court to prosecute his own father for bounding a servant who killed a slave. Euthyphro’s father sent a request to the leaders to ask what should be done with the servant, but during that time the man died in the ditch. Euthyphro claims this is an act of impiety, regardless of intent. He claims to have superior knowledge of piety and impiety. Thus, Socrates and Euthyphro discuss the subject of piety. What is piety?

In his first definition, Euthyphro defines piety as his current activity -prosecuting wrongdoers (6d-6e). When Socrates reminds Euthyphro that he has not given an adequate definition, Euthyphro restates his position to say ‘what is dear to the gods is pious and the opposite for impiety.’

Socrates then engages Euthyphro in a discussion about the differences among the gods, such as discord, and how each are spawned by love of the true, the good, and the beautiful. Each god is different -what is loved by the gods is also hated by the gods. How, then, can one man claim knowledge of piety?

The third definition provided by Euthyphro: piety is what all the gods love, and impiety is what the gods hate. To this Socrates asks what the cause of piety is -are the pious loved by the gods and therefore pious? Or are they loved by the gods and in so doing become pious?

The conversation leads to a question of the just and the pious, and whether they are the same thing. Eventually Euthyphro responds that they are the same but only parts are concerned with the care of the gods, and once again Socrates tries to reason about the care of the gods. Again, it is a question of agency. Piety brings gifts of goodness upon men and Euthyphro claims that it benefits the gods (human piety) even though earlier he had acknowledged that piety is not god-loved. Socrates points out the contradiction but Euthyphro is willing to accept it and stay with it. The dialogue leaves a disappointed Socrates as he must part ways with Euthyphro. Euthyphro is now is late for prosecuting his own father. Socrates must go to his indictment without proper knowledge of piety or impiety.

One recalls the scene at the outset of Nietzsche’s great work Thus Spake Zarathustra wherein Zarathustra encounters a priest, and they pass like old friends, with a similar project in mind for humanity. In the same way, Socrates and Euthyphro are not mortal enemies, they merely differ on the question of reason versus revelation.

For this reading I used the Grube translation as featured in the Hackett Classics Edition.

Important Reflections on the Tao Te Ching.

The Tao Te Ching, sometimes translated as the “Classic of the Virtuous Way”, is rumored to have been written by Lao Tzu. He is said to have been a sage of the royal court, or also a magistrate or astrologer, perhaps during the Warring States Period, though others claim he was a contemporary of Confucius. In Chinese Daoism, he is venerated as one of the great elders present at creation (Taji) and is credited as the author of the Tao Te Ching.

While Confucianism, formed mainly from the aforementioned basis of the Analects, can be said to advocate for a strong state, rigid mores, and deference to cultural customs, the Tao Te Ching is uniquely distinct. Confucianism has much to say about politics, but Taoism is far more ontological and existential. As with early Gnostic Christianity, Taoism is concerned with the appropriate and formless “Way”, or Tao, of all things. In the Analects, Master Kong encourages individuals to make appropriate propitiations, or actions, but the Tao Te Ching encourages “not acting” (3) and centering oneself in the Tao, which is beyond good and evil, and Taoism is suspicious of the pursuit of knowledge, as is common for theology which prefaces faith over reason. However, the Tao Te Ching does offer some political advice for the Master: relinquish the desire to control, the Will to Power, and let the people lead with humility -a great Master allows the people to believe they have accomplished great things.

The text is composed of approximately 5,000 characters and 81 short chapters.

“Fill your bowl to the brim
and it will spill.
Keep sharpening your knife
and it will be blunt.
Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.

Do your work, then step back.
The only path to serenity”

“Colors blind the eye.
Sounds deafen the ear.
Flavors numb the taste.
Thoughts weaken the mind.
Desires wither the heart.

The Master observes the world
but trusts his inner vision.
He allows things to come and go.
His heart is open as the sky”

“A good traveller has no fixed plans
and is not intent upon arriving.
A good artist lets his intuition
lead him wherever it wants.
A good scientist has freed himself of concepts
and keeps his mind open to what is.

Thus the Master is available to all people
and doesn’t reject anyone.
He is ready to use all situations
and doesn’t waste anything.
This is called embodying the light.

What is a good man but a bad man’s teacher?
What is a bad man but a good man’s teacher?
If you don’t understand this, you will get lost,
however intelligent you are.
It is the great secret”

“Without opening your door,
you can open your heart to the world.
Without looking out your window,
you can see the essence of the Tao.

The more you know,
the less you understand.

The Master arrives without leaving,
sees the light without looking,
achieves without doing a thing”

“The Master gives himself up
to whatever the moment brings.
He knows that he is going to die,
and he has nothing left to hold onto:
no illusions in his mind,
no resistances in his body.
He doesn’t think about his actions;
they flow from the core of his being.
He holds nothing back from life;
therefore he is ready for death,
as a man is ready for sleep
after a good day’s work”

For this reading I used Stephen Mitchell’s translation of the Tao Te Ching.

Six Questions in the Prasna Upanishad

The Bhagavad Gita and the Prasna Upanishad are the closest examples in the “Eastern Canon” to a dialectical dialogue, such as a Platonic dialogue.

In the Prasna Upanishad, we encounter six students full of devotion to Brahman, “the Supreme Spirit.” In their quest for the highest Brahman they approach the holy Pippalada to explain the sacred teaching. However, he tells them to wait one year, and then he will answer each question.

First Question
Kabandhi Katyayana asks “whence came all created beings?”

The sage responds with a myth. He says, in the beginning the creator longed for the “joy” of creation through Rayi (matter) and Prana (life). This differentiation became day and night, and the sage also states that those who follow and obey the law of the Lord of Creation become creators, like the pale side of the moon, however those who live without deceit or purity live like the radiant sun. He quotes the Rigveda.

Second Question
Bhargava Vaidarbhi asks: what are the powers that keep the union of being, how many keep burning the lamps of life, and which is supreme? -an ontological question.

The sage says the powers are space, air, earth, water, and fire; and voice, mind, eye, and ear. Together these keep the foundation of being, however, life, like the queen bee, is the supreme ruler. The second half is a prayer of praise dedicated to life.

Third Question
Kausalya Asvalayana asks whence does life arise? How does it come to this body? How does it abide and leave? How does it sustain the universe within and without?

The sage states that life comes from the spirit, like a long shadow. The Atman is the inner self that lives in the heart. One attains life everlasting by knowing the meaning of life. This is the only student praised for his pursuit of Brahman by the sage.

Fourth Question
Sauryayani Gargya asks how many powers remain awake in man? Who is the spirit that beholds dreams? Who has no dreams? Who is the spirit on whom all others find rest?

Like a setting sun, the spirit sleeps, but not the body (notice the early distinction between mind/body). In dreams the mind “beholds its own immensity.”Peace comes to those who draw inward to their highest Atman.

Fifth Question
Saibya Satyakama asks: what happens to the man who rests his life on om after death?

He who who rests on the three sacred sounds travels beyond and finds peace without death. He finds these harmonies in the Rigveda, Yajurveda, and Samaveda.

Sixth Question
Sukesa Bharadvaja asks about a prince who once asked if he knew the Spirit sixteen forms. Upon response, the student says he does not know him and he speaks not untruth.

The Spirit rests in the body. It disappears beyond oceans and rivers. The students praise the sage and seers, as the sage tells them that he knows the Supreme Spirit and that there is nothing beyond.

For this reading I used the Penguin Classics Edition translated by Juan Mascaro.

Notes on Creation and Death in the Rig Veda

The Creation Hymn (Nasadiya) is an account of the origins of the cosmos, though curiously, unlike in Genesis, it is not the opening text found in the Rig Veda. Instead, the first hymn of the Rig Veda is dedicated to Agni, god of fire, and Agni is the first word of the Rig Veda signaling the theological matter of its subject.

The first two sentences begin with “there was” indicating that the events occurred temporally, rather than at a beginning. There was neither death nor immortality, nor signs of night or day, nor existence or non-existence. What stirred and where? The hymn provides an answer to the question of origins that is devoid of a deity. A life force arises through the “power of heat” and this is the first seed of mind. A cord appears to delineate the higher from the lower things, giving spacial recognition. The gods then appear afterwards, though the hymn acknowledges that ultimately no one can know definitively. It ends on a questionable note, as is common for the mystical texts. It provides very little in the form of answers, however the scripture does ease the mind as it discourages the mind from thinking.

However, in a separate hymn a term Hiranyagarbha, meaning “golden embryo” or “golden egg”, is the first to arise and hold the earth and the sky in place. Following this, the chants and incantations were born, along with the four Vedas.

In the Vedas, the authors sing hymns to the god of death, Yama. The liquified form of the Soma plant is offered to the gods, much in the way Ambrosia is the drink of the Greek gods.

Curiously, the Rig Veda also contains incantations of spells intended to control the spirit of a human being. Much like the hymns found within the Egyptian Book of the Dead, or the more aptly titled Papyrus of Ani, the ancient Vedic peoples also believe in the firm power of recitations and rituals to control the perceived invisible powers of nature. One is always inclined to ask, as William James once did, why the religious conscience is always found coupled with music and rhythm. Why the need for music when engaging with the supernatural?

For this reading I used the Penguin Classics edition translated by Wendy Doniger.