Some of us know it is a deceptive world, but this knowledge might not necessarily save us, particularly from ourselves.
Socrates argues, again and again in so many ways, for us to remain open to our lack of understanding. But he shows in Phaedo, through an interesting illustration of opposites and things that are not opposites but can take on the value of opposites, how it is possible to maintain an untainted idea of ideals behind the mire and confusion of the concrete.
It might sound banal, but a personal example of confusion had to do with justification behind consideration of art if one is set on obtaining ideals. I remembered Plato's Socratic warning against some lower forms of art in the Republic and was confused by my own yearnings. But this is where Aristotle comes in: and chance encounters with students who read recently his On Poetry. Tragedy can serve a purpose, involving catharsis.
For the sake of all of our future life, are we not sometimes bogged down by particulars, though? I thought recently after I tried to rush a short story for a competition how I "hate situations." They are such knots. But if you are from the East like me, the moment you think of knot, you remember it is one of the eight 吉祥八宝, or auspicious symbols. It is 盤長結, the coil or mystic knot, and has to do with wisdom and compassion. It can also have to do with wisdom and method; religion and secularism; the endless movement of mind and eternal love and friendship - and so much more, like ancestors and the living, emptiness and dependent co-arising.
About forerunners: it becomes clear in the Socratic dialogues taking place up to his death (namely in the two Apologies) that he had instructed youth to seek what is right (which may have been in conflict with parents and their wishes, if these were not also oriented in the same fashion). This does not mean - as we see from Xenopohon's Memorabilia - that one should disrespect one's parents: this thread leads out of the knot that would restrain one from seeing the ideal. The tragedy, out of compassion, begs one to see something of oneself, of the human experience and where we can go wrong, repeatedly.
For the sake of the future life, these days are not to be seen as the end. Is there room in the imagination to see something even greater beyond that which can be touched by the senses?
To engage with beauty not as the final destination, but as a sign.
Because it can all get confusing, so quickly. To take a few-day jaunt in a foreign land, one may so quickly forget the stoic principles one had laid in place in one's home. All that is possible is suddenly present, physically.
I walk down a road with the sugar dust of Turkish delight smudging my blue dress and see one of those hungry looking youths who seems a ghost of Burroughs or Ginsberg and think of the dizzying qualities of the crossroads that never occurs to me when I am at home when I seek not adventure but training. Suddenly I am not thinking about self-restraint, but all the reasons behind someone's stare, all the possibilities behind the emergence of this stranger: what is it looking for?
Not all opinions, but the truth. This is what Socrates urges. "Human wisdom is of little or no value," we learn in Plato's Apology.
Then, all those "experiences" that tantalise one with their nearness are forced to retreat into humility. We are at the precipice. The knot is the nearness of those friends who circumstance and/or affinity has brought close to us, whose problems we try to solve, mutually.
I visited a friend who lives in a shell; she is making pearls from salt. I think she looks like a mermaid, and she even rolls her hair in torn bits of fabric. She is so young and so old at the same time, and since I last saw her, she has made it on her own in a foreign land, a foreign city. The sign of survival. So many of the accoutrements fall away of their own accord. We are bound to temporality but despite its turbulence and changes, the message of love remains the same: the hair of the favourite is petted in Phaedo, differences are talked out so long as an ideal is shared, otherwise even the knot untangles and falls apart.
Socrates says we ought to do our best to acquire virtue and wisdom because the prize is fair, and ought to repeat the merits of being righteous like a charm. Part of this charm is self-restraint, which means not going just anywhere one could, doing just anything one could. If eternity is the knot we are going for, a stillness of mind is asked for according to which important threads are to be gathered.
But if the Phaedo teaches anything, it is that truth is not to be gained through angry argumentation, but through a gentle exploration wherein all earnest questions are permitted. Just like in the endless knot, it is love that interpenetrates all: and love permits freedom. Freedom for the sake of the future life.
For the meaning of the title, see དཔལ་བེའུ (Sanskrit for 盤長結 coil knot) in Sarat Chandra Das. Tibetan-English Dictionary with Sanskrit Synonyms (Calcutta: Bengal Secretariat Book Depot: 1902), pp.69, "the auspicious mark represented by a curled noose emblematical of love."
Brush: Ewansim Grunge at DeviantART.