Context & Source
- In the history of Greece, there was a particular period of cultural and military achievements that came to be called “Classical Greece.”
- It lasted about 200 years in the fifth and fourth centuries B.C., ending at the death of Alexander the Great in 323 B.C.
- The classical period is considered to have been a time of “unprecedented political and cultural achievement.”
- For example, in 445 B.C., construction began on the Parthenon, the famous temple dedicated to Athena. From Classical Greece came the Greek tragedy, the historian Herodotus, the physician Hippocrates and the philosopher Socrates. It also brought political reforms that are ancient Greece’s most enduring contribution to the modern world: the system known as demokratia, or “rule by the people.”
- Plato was a philosopher in Classical Greece and the founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world.
- Born around 428 B.C., Plato was a philosopher, a student of Socrates and a teacher of Aristotle.
- His writings explored justice, beauty and equality. He also discussed aesthetics, political philosophy, theology, cosmology, epistemology and the philosophy of language.
The Socratic Method
- The Socratic method or Socratic debate is named after the Classical Greek philosopher Socrates.
- The Socratic method searches for general, commonly held beliefs and scrutinizes them.
- It is a form of cooperative, argumentative dialogue between individuals, based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to draw out ideas and underlying presuppositions.
- It steadily identifies and eliminates hypotheses that lead to contradictions, causing better hypotheses to be found.
- The basic form is a series of questions formulated as tests of logic and fact intended to help a person or group discover their beliefs about a topic.
- The discussion of moral and philosophical problems between two or more characters in a dialogue is one version of the Socratic method.
- Socratic dialogue is the name given to this genre of literary prose developed in Classical Greece and demonstrated through the works of Plato and Xenophon.
- The dialogues are either dramatic or narrative and Socrates is often the main participant.
- The Republic is a Socratic dialogue, written by Plato around 380 BC.
- It is Plato’s best-known work, and is considered one of the world’s most influential works of philosophy and political theory, both intellectually and historically.
- It concerns justice, the order and character of the just city-state, and the just human.
- In the dialogue, Socrates discusses with various Athenians and foreigners about the meaning of justice and whether the just man is happier than the unjust man. They consider the natures of existing regimes and then propose a series of different, hypothetical cities in comparison.
- They also discuss the theory of forms, the immortality of the soul, and the role of the philosopher and of poetry in society.
- In Book VII of The Republic is the allegory of the cave.
- An allegory is a fictional, symbolic representation of truths or generalizations about human existence.
Allegory of the Cave
An ode to limiting beliefs, the allegory of the cave offers a powerful model of a restricted world perspective. You can read the actual story in many sources.
- One translation of the text is here.
- For an audio reading of the original text, go here.
- For a video and telling using modern language, go here.
Following are the main points organized in a way to help you easily retain them for re-telling the story.
Plato’s teacher, Socrates tells his student a story with these key elements:
- Prisoners know nothing else
- A limited view
- Limited perception is believed to be reality
- Liberation brings a terrifying new reality
- The liberated person wishes to share the truth
- Prisoners reject the messenger and the truth
Highlights for Re-Telling
Prisoners Know Nothing Else
- Imagine a group of prisoners in a cave. The prisoners have been here since childhood and have known nothing else.
- Their legs and neck are chained so that they are unable to move or turn their head to see behind them.
A Limited View
- Their entire lives they can see only the back wall of the cave.
- The cave wall is illuminated by a fire that they cannot see, located far behind them.
- Between the fire and the prisoners there is a bridge. People cross the bridge, carrying objects.
- Like a puppet show, the shadows of the people and their objects are displayed on the wall in front of the prisoners.
- The prisoners can see only the shadow projections of themselves and the people behind them.
Limited Perception is Believed to be Reality
- This is the only vision they know, and is their truth.
- They don’t know those are shadows caused by the firelight. They believe the shadow projections are real.
- The prisoners pass the time by identifying the shadows on the wall in front of them and making predictions based on what they’ve seen.
Liberation Brings a Terrifying New Reality
- A prisoner is liberated. He is able to stand up and turn to see the fire.
- It is so bright. In fact, the glare is too painful and at first, he must look away, unable to see the realities around him.
- As the freed prisoner’s eyes adjust to the light, he looks around him.
- He is told by a guide that what he saw before was an illusion and that now, turned toward real existence, he has clearer vision. But he is perplexed and thinks that what he saw before must be truer than what he is looking at now.
- He is reluctantly dragged out of the cave and steps forward into the sun.
- The light is dazzling and painful. Adjusting is an agonizing process. He looks first at shadows and then reflections in the water and then the objects themselves. Then he is able to gaze at the light of the moon and stars at night.
- Last of all, after his eyes have fully adjusted, he is able to see the sun.
- He realizes the truth of what he is seeing
The Liberated Person Wishes to Share the Truth
- He remembers the prisoners still in the cave and feels sorrow over their plight and ignorance.
- He goes back to the cave to tell them the truth.
Prisoners Reject the Messenger & The Truth
- As he returns back to the cave, his eyes are no longer adjusted to the darkness and so he is less capable (and is not interested) in measuring and discussing the shadows and predicting the future based on them.
- The other prisoners think that the messenger has become less capable as a result of his journey and ascent out of the cave.
- They find his message unconvincing and cling to their ignorance, rejecting freedom.
- And, in fact, the prisoners violently protect their slavery against anyone who would free them.
The Allegory as a Teaching Tool
You may wish to use the allegory of the cave to explore:
- Perceptions and how beliefs are formed
- The journey of consciousness
- Light as a metaphor for different levels of understanding
- The power of beliefs and the extent to which people will cling to them (and be hostile to those who would attempt to lift them from their ignorance)
- A premise such as, The journey of consciousness, and changing limited beliefs, begins in the cave of our perceptions and beliefs.
Diana Benigno, RYT graciously offers this Shadow Meditation Exercise to our members.
- Come into the fetal position and close your eyes.
- Imagine darkness. Warm, thick earth is supporting you, cradling you in its arms.
- If you stretched and spread your hand over it, you could grip and mold it in your hands.
- As you breathe, notice your belly soften and expand, inhaling and exhaling.
- Notice the moist air that circulates around you.
- Breathing in, it’s cool and smooth. Breathing out, it’s heavy and hot.
- Imagine you are in a cave… vast and deep… so vast, it’s as if you were camping on the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
- The top of the cave is so high up and dark that it seems amorphous, spacious… It’s comforting in its infinity.
A New Day
- You arise to a new day in this space.
- From darkness, a beam of light begins to arise slowly in front of you, where a wall meets the earth.
- You can see the color of the dirt now, and the stony wall.
- Feel yourself rise as the light permeates more of your surroundings.
- The light isn’t too bright, it seems to call to you to gaze at it… it begins dancing across the surface with an ethereal quality, making shapes in front of your eyes.
- These shapes are luminous and become more and more detailed as you focus your eyes on their specific eccentricities.
- The light causes these images to move, even interact with each other as they collide and splice beautiful rainbows like unruly paint on a canvas.
- What do you see?
- Notice your breath as your imagination becomes the artist. What you think instantly comes into being like animated ancient hieroglyphs.
Time is Measured by the Light
- In this place time is continuous. There is only one way to measure it: by the light that shines from behind and above you, like the sun from a window too high to reach.
- What is outside and just out of your field of vision is totally unknown.
- As you breathe, inhale noticing any sensations that arise, and exhaling through and around any areas of tension or tightness.
- The direction the light is coming from slowly begins to shift, erasing your creations with the shift of a sundial.
- The light is now focusing itself right in front of your gaze, creating a spotlight on the wall.
Searching for Clarity
- You look behind you for clarity but all you see is the bottom of a low bridge, just high enough to block the light from entering more radiantly into your field of perception.
- What is on the bridge? You cannot see.
- Notice your thoughts. How do you feel that you cannot see the activity atop the bridge?
- What do you hear? Voices? Music? Other noises?
- Gently turn to face the surface in front of you, where once again black shadows begin to move across it.
- You see now that the shadows are reflected, yet obscured and are reflecting whatever is crossing the bridge, like puppets behind a shadow-screen.
- Can you hear them more clearly now? It almost sounds as if these reverberations are coming directly from the shadows.
- The light behind grows brighter and brighter, a high-noon glow that obscures all else but the shadows on the wall.
- You are in the myth of the cave, living out its plotless story in your awareness right now.
- Now you realize you are not the only one in this cave.
- Who is next to you? A pet? A friend or family member? Your coworkers? The world?
- They are all staring at the wall in amazement just as you are.
- But you… you are conscious. You know that what you are viewing is a shadow and not the true image of what you see.
- Look down at your ankle. A loose twine is wrapped around it, tied to nothing. Undo it slowly and stand.
- Notice the freedom you feel as you arise. The light above you slowly dims and the shadows begin to meld with the wall again.
- Turn around and look slightly up and you will see a staircase that leads to the bridge that leads to the world above.
- Climbing the stairs with all the anticipation of a child who was just let out of school early, you ascend. You come to the foot of the bridge. No one is on it.
- As you gently walk across the bridge, notice what it is made out of. Is it a foot bridge, is it made of stone, wood, or grass?
- At the edge of the bridge, you find a ladder leading upward. Each step you take, notice the sensations that arise within you, this threshold of the unknown. Look up. The light above you grows until you are completely engulfed in sunlight. You place one foot on the earth and then the other, standing taller than you’ve ever stood before.
- A new world is before you, with limitless possibilities.
- You have the freedom to paint this world as you wish, but instead of just fabrications against a blank wall, you can create in three dimensional reality.
- Take a few moments to imagine what this world looks like.
- Notice if any fears arise now that you have unlimited potential. Any feelings of excitement or a surge of energy.
- You are free from your chains, and the shadows the light casts fall away to reveal a new world of your own creation with your own unique perspective.
- Find a place in this landscape to rest now. What type of earth is underneath you? Are you near the ocean, a mountain range, or fields of green or wheat?
- Close your eyes again and listen to the sounds around you, of birds, or waves or roads beyond. Be with your own presence now, unaffected, unbound, and unshackled.
- As you lie here begin to come back to your waking life perception by wiggling your fingers and your toes, letting subtle movement enter the body.
- Take three deep breaths to bring more awareness to your physical body.
- Slowly open your eyes.
- You have now awakened another layer of consciousness, which will reveal its openness as you walk out of this room and back into the world. And even though the world outside has not changed since you sat down today, you are changed, and realize now that you are the hero of your own journey, and have complete control of your thoughts, your beliefs, and your life.
Sources & Resources
See here for a list of sources and resources for the entire Beliefs section.
Free Handout of this Material
We are happy to email you a free downloadable version of this content.
Often it will be in a PDF. Sometimes you’ll receive image JPGs. In some cases, we also have PowerPoint files that you are welcome to have if you’d like to edit the file for your own use.
To receive, please email us and specify the title of this page so we know which piece to send you.
No purchase or credit card required.
And we won’t be trying to get you to buy something because we don’t sell anything.
We will add your email address to our newsletter list unless you don’t want that. (Newsletters have no ads or solicitations… just content.)
Previously, we offered the downloads directly from the web site, but the downloads repeatedly became corrupted. As a result, we were spending an excessive amount of time re-doing them… so it seems to be a more sustainable solution is to send them via email.
For a complete list of available downloads, see here.