“[38a] and if again I say that to talk every day about virtue and the other things about which you hear me talking and examining myself and others is the greatest good to man, and that the unexamined life is not worth living, you will believe me still less. This is as I say, gentlemen, but it is not easy to convince you. Besides, I am not accustomed to think that I deserve anything bad. If I had money, I would have proposed a fine,”
Plato – The Apology ( Plato’s version of the speech given by Socrates)
In every one of the higher religions, there is a strain of infinite optimism on the one hand and on the other, a profound reality that often comes across as pessimistic. They all teach that, in the depths of our being, an inner light resides…..but an inner light which our egotism keeps, for most of the time, in a state of more or less complete eclipse. If, however, it so desires, the ego can get out of the way, so to speak, can dis-eclipse the light and become identified with its divine source…..hence the unlimited optimism of the traditional religions. What’s viewed as their pessimism springs from the observed fact that though all are called, few are chosen for the sufficient reason that few choose to be chosen. It has not been easy for me to always meet my ideals. In life, we have so many changing and transitory beliefs besides the ones most central to our lives. I hope that what I often write or say doesn’t sound too simple….for me, these are constant reminders of how to follow this path I’ve chosen to take. I know that it is my deep and fixed conviction that man has within him the force of good and a power to translate that force into life. For me, this means a pattern of life that makes personal relationships more important, a pattern that makes more beautiful and attractive the personal virtues of: courage, humility, selflessness, and love. I used to smile at my mother because the tears came so readily to her eyes when she heard or read of some incident that called out these virtues. I don’t smile anymore, because I find I have become more and more responsive in the same way to the same kind of story. And so, I believe that I both can and must work to achieve the good that is in me. Socrates words often come to me: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” By examination, we can discover what our good is, and we can realize that knowledge of good means its achievement. I know that such self-examination has never been easy. The Buddha maintained that it was “the soul’s eternal search.” It seems, to me, particularly difficult these days, in a period of such rapid material expansion and such widespread global conflict. The Buddha taught the belief, which follows from this: If I have the potential of the good life within me and the compulsion to express it, then it is a power and a compulsion common to all men. What I must have for myself to conduct my search, all men must have: freedom of choice, faith in the power and the beneficent qualities of truth. What frightens me most, today, is the denial of these rights because this can only come from the denial of, what seems to me, the essential nature of man. For if my conviction holds, man is more important than anything he’s created, and our great task is to bring back again, into a subordinate position, the monstrous superstructures of our society. I hope this way of reducing our problems to the human equation is not simply an evasion of them. I don’t believe it is. For most of us, it is the only area, in which we can work…..the human area, with ourselves, with the people we touch…..and through these, too, a vicarious understanding with mankind. I watch young people these days wrestling with our mighty problems. They are much more concerned with them than my generation of students ever was. They are deeply aware of the words equality and justice. But in their great desire to right wrong, they are prone to forget that nothing matters more than people. They need to add to their crusades the warmer and more affecting virtues of compassion and love. And here again come those personal virtues that bring tears to the eyes. My Teacher, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama reminds us often that men have put forth enormous efforts to make their world a better place to live in. But, except in regard to gadgets, plumbing, and hygiene, their success has been pathetically small. As the proverb stated, ‘is paved with good intentions’. And so long as we go on trying to realize our ideals by bad or merely inappropriate means, our good intentions will come to the same bad ends. In this lie the tragedy and the irony of history….and of non-examination and questioning. The Buddha taught us to examine and question all….”Now, Kalamas, don’t go by reports, by legends, by traditions, by scripture, by logical conjecture, by inference, by analogies, by agreement through pondering views, by probability, or by the thought, ‘This contemplative is our teacher.’ When you know for yourselves that, ‘These qualities are skillful; these qualities are blameless; these qualities are praised by the wise; these qualities, when adopted & carried out, lead to welfare & to happiness’ — then you should enter & remain in them.“ Can I, as an individual, do anything to make future history a little less tragic and less ironic than history past, and present? I believe I can. As a citizen, I can use all my intelligence and all my goodwill to develop political means that shall be of the same kind and quality as the ideal ends which I am trying to achieve. And as a person, as a psychophysical organism, I can learn how to get out of the way so that the divine source of my life and consciousness can come out of eclipse and shine through me. I am confident that what seems a hopeless battle to eliminate disease, poverty, starvation, war, human abuses, human tragedy…..is merely the beginning of the end of our tolerance to such human abuses…..the beginning of the end to this cycle of using fear, pain, violence to right what one (person, community, nation, religion) deems wrong. The power of good within us all is real and comes there from a source outside and beyond ourselves. Otherwise, I could not put my trust so firmly in it.