Vol. 14, No. 1, Spring 2012

Socrates . . . . . . . . . . . . . by Kurt Abraham

Socrates was born in Athens in 470 BC (died 399). He decided early in life to be “an examiner of men.” He was known as a philosophical thinker who questioned people’s basic beliefs. It all had to do with such matters as virtue, justice, wisdom, love, truth, and the good. The democratic spirit was alive and well in Athens. It mattered what people thought. Social institutions came about as a result of people’s thinking. Too little time was given to the underlying principles, or lack thereof, that carried people through the day. Just exactly what were people thinking. Their thoughts and beliefs needed to be most carefully examined.

Being an examiner of men was a calling. Socrates, as he often mentioned, was doing God’s work. He considered it an occupation, and not a profession. Occupation is what one did, profession is what one got paid for. This was a very important distinction for Socrates. A person of Socrates’ skills could certainly have made a living as a teacher of philosophy. Rhetorical skills in particular were highly prized and sought after in democratic Athens, for having sound intellectual argument and being able to persuade people was highly prized among the educated and leaders of the community. Socrates, however, went about his calling from quite a different angle.

“He has a way of stopping anywhere and losing himself without any reason” (Symposium). It was actually Socrates’ “devotion to the god” that prompted him in such a way that he had no time to give to his own personal concerns or self-interests. A casual observer might say that he lost himself “without any reason” but clearly he was a man awake to the unique possibilities unfolding in time and space.

Passing a shop display Socrates said: “Look at all the things I don’t need.” He walked through the streets of Athens barefoot, saving himself the cost of sandals. He wore a simple tunic. “He who desires nothing is in want of nothing, is my judgment,” said Socrates (Symposium). Generally, though not always, people were happy to share a meal or refreshment with such a wise guest. Socrates was well known throughout Athens.

Thus, Socrates strolled through Athens and talked to people. He valued leisure, not in order to lie about and do nothing, rather he valued leisure so that he had the time to examine people’s values and ideas, in other words, so that he could do his work. As an “examiner”, he questioned people’s beliefs. Why was this important, when people were about so many other things? Who had time to explore the world of ideas and value systems in any serious manner? “God orders me to fulfill the philosopher’s mission of searching into myself and other men…. Are you not ashamed,” he would ask citizens of Athens, “of heaping up money, honor and reputation, while caring so little about wisdom and truth and the improvement of the soul?” (Apology)

Socrates’ friend Chaerephone asked the Oracle of Delphi if any man was wiser than Socrates. The Pythian Prophetess answered that there is none (Apology).

Socrates was welcomed by many but hated by others. Being a very wise man, brought mixed reactions. First of all, he really couldn’t understand why the Oracle said that he was the wisest man, since he never claimed to be wise or claimed to know much of anything at all. Only God is wise, was his point of view. While other men know nothing yet think that they know, Socrates asserted: “I neither know nor think that I know.” In that sense he was perhaps wiser than many,—or most, or even all. Perhaps that is what the Oracle meant, was his line of reasoning—he was wise in realizing that he didn‘t know much of anything. I don’t know, a wise one would say, let us think, let us question.

Socrates devised a method of putting the Oracle’s answer to the test. Whenever he heard about a wise man, he would go to him to find out if such were truly the case. If he found a wise man, could he not then take the matter before the Oracle for reexamining? How could it be that there was no one wiser than him?

In his pursuit of wise men, what Socrates mostly found were pretenders to wisdom. When Socrates examined these men, what he found was “the men most in repute were all but the most foolish; and that others less esteemed were really wiser and better.” (Apology)

First on his list were the politicians. Then as now, politicians certainly had to make claims about themselves. Young men followed Socrates as he sought out the prominent because the young men liked to hear “the pretenders examined.” In this manner Socrates gathered something like students or a following. But this led also to one of the accusations against him, namely “corrupting the youth of Athens.” These young men (Plato among them) would then also imitate Socrates and examine others. People who were examined, instead of being pleased with having new insights about themselves, were angry with Socrates. “They do not like to confess that their pretense of knowledge has been detected—and that’s the truth,” Socrates told his accusers (Apology).

Socrates said that his “plainness of speech”, or his clarity of speech, made them hate him, and that this hatred itself was proof that he was speaking the truth. What he was in effect doing was dissipating glamour and dispelling illusion—which he called being an examiner of men and getting at the truth. This is a skill, a technique that can easily be twisted or abused. It all depends of level and motive.

Socrates was on trial for his life. But his concern was not with whether he would live or die; his concern was for the truth. “The fear of death is the pretense of wisdom, and not real wisdom” (Apology). The truth of the given matter was all that really mattered.

Socrates considered himself to be a “sort of gadfly, given to the state of Athens by God.” The state he likens to a large steed. Its movement is slow due to its very size. The task of the gadfly is to arouse the state and its citizens and stir them into life. He does this by reproaching and persuading.

His purpose, as he went around and talked to diverse people, was to do the “greatest good” for others by persuading them to look within themselves for wisdom and virtue. This required setting aside self-interest. Socrates himself set the example—he neglected and sacrificed his own needs in order to reach out to others.

It is important to note that Socrates had some kind of spiritual or psychic connection with the divine. “You have heard me speak at various times and places of an oracle or sign that comes to me…. This sign is a kind of voice” which came to him at first when he was a child. His work of examining people was “imposed by God.” This was signified to him by “oracles, visions, and in every way in which the will of the divine power was ever intimated to anyone” (Apology).

When the guilty verdict came and when death was the sentence, Socrates had one request of his friends: that they reproach his sons if they put riches before virtue, or if his sons pretend to be something that they are not. In other words, he wanted his friends to treat and guide his sons as Socrates had guided his friends and followers. In that way he was leaving a true legacy to his sons and the community.

It is very interesting that Socrates learned his artful philosophical technique of examining men from a woman—Diotima of Mantinea—who was “wise in many kinds of knowledge” (Symposium). Through her Arts, according to Socrates, in the days of old she was able to delay the plague in Athens for ten years.

The theme of Symposium is love, and it is especially on this theme that he has to give special credit to Diotima. She told Socrates, “Love is a great spirit … an intermediate between the divine and the mortal … the mediator who spans the chasm which divides them…. God mingles not with man; but through Love all the intercourse and converse between God and man, whether awake or asleep, is carried on. The wisdom which understands this is spiritual.”

“Love,” she goes on to explain, “may be described generally as the everlasting possession of the good.”

The pursuit of love is played out in the drama of the sexes. This passionate pursuit of beauty and goodness has much to do with the creation of offspring, which in turn has much to do with continuity or immortality. The mortal nature seeks immortality. This is also related to man’s ambitions and quest for fame.

The pursuit of beauty and the good may have a personal focus initially, but the “violent love of one” is a demeaning and small thing. The love of one beautiful form is generalized to all beautiful forms. The “next stage” is this understanding of the nature of love leads to a consideration of the “beauty of mind”—more honorable than the beauty of outward forms.

As there is generation and the birth of one’s offspring, so also is there the birth of thoughts and ideas. From personal considerations one moves to “the beauty of institutions and laws” and regards them all as of “one family.” Any kind of personal beauty is really “a trifle.” Rather than being a slave to something mean and narrow-minded, there is a “drawing towards” and contemplating of “the vast sea of beauty”, arriving at a “boundless love of wisdom” (Symposium).

Thus there are levels, or an “order and succession” to these important matters of Love and Beauty, which relate in essence to continuity and to immortality. Diotima saw each level of love and beauty as only steps, going from form to practice, and from thought to idea, until one arrives at essence and absolute. The divine is uncontaminated by the vanities of human life. One brings forth and nourishes “true virtue”, and becomes a “friend of God and becomes immortal, if mortal man may” (Symposium).

Socrates, as well as beauty of mind, also prized physical health. This virtue was strong throughout athletic Greece. He knew well that a philosopher can hardly think or speak if the health isn’t good.

Socrates didn’t completely shun wine, but one never saw him intoxicated. I can personally tell you, from my brief encounter with Socrates on the inner planes, that if he wanted anything other than the opportunity to serve and serve endlessly, it was for a cup of fruit juice. A cool drink of juice was most pleasing to the palate. And when he asked, we scrambled to find the coolest among the vats, testing each one with a spoon. It is a great honor to be able to meet a humble need of one who asks for so little and gives so much.

When it comes to the important question of Type and Level, we see the Level factor standing out
very clearly.

Personality is the pretender. This is a factor of identification. It has to do with mistaking the part for the whole, the peripheral with the center, the non-essential with the essential, the temporary with the permanent, and the transitional with what has continuity.

In speaking, for example, of Justice or Love, the soul finds the essence and the idea or archetype, whereas personality distorts through the personal perspective. Socrates had the wisdom of the higher perspective—the impersonal and soul perspective. His love of wisdom and his love of the people strongly suggest the presence of the second ray. He was clearly a teacher who became a world teacher with the help of his student Plato—a world teacher in his own right.

In addition to his wisdom, Socrates had a gift with words, with speech. Plato was the writer while Socrates engaged others through dialogue. Personality thinkers tend to use intellect primarily, which can become entangled in complexity and miss essence. Socrates could out-intellectualize the intellects and lead them to essence. We find here something that looks like a 2-3 ray combination. Adaptation—a keyword for the third ray of active intelligence—is another quality very present in Socrates’ stroll through town.

Another very important level factor has to do with his “poverty”, which he calls a “witness to the truth” of what he says. It has to do with giving of himself to God. He was not working for himself but for others. When one doesn’t charge a fee, this certainly enables more people to come to the table. One’s cup runneth over with love and joy, and in that he was a very rich man. He cultivated the habit of having few needs, which liberated him for his joyous labors.

Socrates taught all of Athens, and, in doing that, he was doing God’s work. He knew that, and the Oracle confirmed it. Plato recorded the life and words of Socrates, and, in doing that, he taught the whole world. The recording is a great treasure, indeed, now as then.

Poetry . . . . . . . . . . . . . by Kurt Abraham

A Moment When the World Stood Still

The Big Questions have always been my cup of tea,
he said and took a sip to punctuate the pause.
The forest and the trees circumnavigate
the corner of every land.
Lost is easy to get.
The Path hard to find.
Beauty’s everywhere in the formless signs.
The Big Questions, he said, are turned
and spoiled in the ego-mix of who’s on first,
whose woods are these, who leads the charge.
He often mentioned Socrates and how then is now.

Big stuff, not small, though small is big
when the termites crawl.
Small is sweet as flowers and bees
and gifts the children find and are.

Weighty are the Big Questions.
It was life or death for Socrates—
no terrorist, this quiet one
who brought truth to everyone,
scaring the mighty little ones
who envy or fear the one
who knows whose woods these really are.

Accuse me? Socrates simply walked truth.
They ran and hid just long enough to plan
the bitter pill for anyone who delves too deep.
Same now as then. Socrates took it all in stride,
not surprised by the crawling of the bugs
in their day of darkness, their place in the sun
that never shines, gives no warmth for searching ones.
Socrates passed on—a moment when the world stood still.

Big Questions hang round and linger on, he smiled.
They’ve always been my cup of tea,
as he took a sip and waited for his friend
to see to hear to ask and then
to take the plunge.

Art of the Italian Renaissance . . . . . . . . . . . . . by Andrew Nellist

The fourth and sixth rays of Italy gave artistic expression coloured with religion, while there was also second ray wisdom influence as well as fifth ray technique and experiment according to the nation’s ray make-up. The second ray may have helped in giving recollection of classical inspiration and a more intuitive and inclusive view of life. In some respects the Renaissance was a foretaste of the New World Religion in terms of the appreciation of the relation of spirit in God, Man and Nature, while some thinkers involved in the period had real esoteric interests in Hermeticism and Neo-Platonism, Gnosticism and Astrology, such as in the Platonic academy of Florence. In his poetry, Michelangelo refers to reincarnation.

Marsilio Ficino saw love as the desire for beauty. This beauty was expressed in many ways such as in architecture, socially in city-states (represented in the Good Government of Ambrogio Lorenzetti in Siena), in music, and its light shines through the Venetian work in Murano glass, but most notably in painting. Renaissance art is not always beautiful, however, for it can be disturbing or amusing, sometimes ugly, full of fourth ray contrast and colour, in keeping with the Italian personality. There is also a lot of human life in wealth and poverty, health and sickness, peace and war, mystical union and sex, reflecting the fourth ray of humanity.

There was a lot of craft and skill behind the finished work, for example the eyes of Michelangelo’s David are squinting but so as to make them look natural from a viewer’s perspective. There was also a passion for rediscovering classical works. Certainly there was a great deal of creativity, not mere religiosity, while the sixth ray sense of life, with visions of heaven and hell, angels and demons, the princes and poor pervaded. There is a strong sense of realism, but there is also a real sense of spiritual grace and inspiration, a feeling for the reality of the soul, of angels, Christ, the saints, the Madonna and God. There are also lots of children in the putti and the baby Jesus, a sense of family and caring. It is not just about esoteric symbols and scholarship. Sometimes the paintings are done badly and seem funny to us, and sometimes they are near perfect. There is a wide range of the natural world portrayed, as well as of human experience. There are works of genius. The Baptistry doors in Florence by Lorenzo Ghiberti, the great engineering feat of Brunelleschi in building the Dome of Florence Cathedral, and the sculptures of Donatello are amazing in themselves and play their part in the renaissance pageant. Perhaps the importance of this period and its great artworks is that it puts us in touch with the Eternal Now, with spiritual realities of God, Man and Nature, a temporal expression of spiritual contact in a context of timelessness.

A visit to the Dominican monastery of San Marco in Florence gives such an experience of timelessness, as well as awe at the achievement of Fra Angelico. His Annunciation in the north dormitory has grace and colour in the angel, with rainbow-like wings, in a harmonious and classical setting, but the same angel appears in the Annunciation of Cell 3 along with a shocking picture of Saint Peter Martyr with a bleeding head-wound, the blood and zeal of the sixth ray in the same scene as the grace and devotion of the angel and Mary. The frescoes of San Marco are a beautiful series of paintings filling each monk’s cell with spiritual power and presence, acting as icons or windows into the world of the soul. The Crucifixion in the Chapter room is well-balanced and effective, the Mocking of Christ in Cell 7 is surrealistic, the Piercing of Christ’s side in Cell 42 has a startling feature of the flow of blood from Christ’s feet to the ground, but also the eloquence of the women, one with her back turned to the viewer, and one with hands covering her face in grief. The Transfiguration in Cell 6 is powerful and awe-inspiring. Much was involved in the development of artistic technique up to Fra Angelico’s San Marco, and there was much in its social, political and religious context, but the building and paintings combine to make a major accomplishment comparable to orchestral music or an epic poem. The pictures glow and radiate.
While the figures of Sandro Botticelli may seem a little posed to modern eyes, there is no doubting their thrilling grace and vitality. The fertility of creativity and imagination in his Primavera and Birth of Venus say so much of the renaissance soul. Cynics can talk of wealth and patronage, but his pictures to me speak of rebirth, the love of nature, of light and grace and freedom and of fun, which is a quality of the soul without fear of dogma and constraint, a quality of joy.

There is grace and dignity in the work of Leonardo da Vinci, as well as intellectual interests and a holistic view of the world. His figures have natural postures. He saw the Earth as a body also, and in the Mona Lisa the landscape is alive and dynamic. For him the world has a spiritual essence as the human has a soul. He valued the imagination and independent enquiry, he was a vegetarian and a moderate drinker, avoiding political and religious controversy. He was interested in the physical as an expression of the emotional, and made use of perspective and geometry but overlaid it with the play of light and shade. In his London Virgin of the Rocks there is depth and spiritual presence as well as this play of light. Leonardo’s genius is supremely expressed in the face of the Virgin, in its character which transcends description or analysis. It compares with the Louvre Mona Lisa, which computer techniques show to be even more beautiful when clear of its yellowed varnish.

The Sistine Chapel Ceiling by Michelangelo involves the viewer in the spiritual story of mankind. There is no one viewpoint, it arches overhead, unlike a picture on a gallery wall, and it incorporates us. The ancestors of Christ lead to the redemption as an historical development. The prophets and sybils bring foresight from classical and christian times. The scenes from Genesis give the creation of the universe and of man. The spiritual struggle of man is set in an eternal dimension. There is an amazing movement and drama, vitality and energy in which we are involved.

In the Last Judgement above the altar the world is swirled by the controlling gesture of Christ, turning saints and sinners, angels and devils in response to the sounding of the trumpet. The naked figures give a stark reality, and Michelangelo portrays himself in the empty skin of St. Bartholomew. Our sense of time and space is challenged and transcended, as well as our pomp and pride. Michelangelo had doubts in later life as to the value of art in the face of spiritual life and judgement and the vanity of worldly fancies, but his own art breaks through that vanity and justifies art as a timeless expression of spiritual truth and beauty.

Ironically, Michelangelo saw himself mostly as a sculptor ( he was also a great poet), and he was a marvellous one as can be seen by his St. Peter’s Pieta and his David in Florence. He took on the job of the Sistine Chapel reluctantly, but it is in his painting that the light of the soul and the colour of the fourth ray shine through so vividly into our world.

Raffaello Sanzio learnt a lot from earlier artists and contemporaries, but was also a great teacher and good socially. He was popular and charismatic, helpful and courteous, and had a loyal team of assistants. He worked with disegno, expressive of the soul, with grace and blended, subtle beauty, and with harmony of colour, balanced and complementary. He made use of history and took inspiration from classical sources as well as contemporary. The Mond Crucifixion glows with an ethereal light: Christ is on the Cross but is spiritually alive in the light. The Small Cowper Madonna and the Bridgewater Madonna have very human figures, and the Madonna of the Meadow is beautifully composed. There is the lifelike Madonna with children in the Sistine Madonna approaching us, and also the intimacy of the Madonna della Sedia.

In his work on the Pope’s Stanza della Segnatura there is space in The School of Athens for the play of ideas. The Disputa is other-worldly and impressive. Beauty is more apparent in the light and colour and liveliness of Parnassus. There is power and light from the angel in The Liberation of St. Peter in the Stanza di Eliodoro. In the Transfiguration there is the contrast of spiritual power and illumination and the world of human drama and distress.

I can’t write about Renaissance art without mentioning the awesome Tempesta of Giorgione, who was an inspiration for Titian and his enjoyment of paint and colour above concept and design. In Venice, the spirit comes more through the work of Jacopo Tintoretto, I think, where we have powerful images of the spirit shining into the world of human drama, impressively displayed in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. The Scuola was a religious body to help the poor and the sick, and some of these paintings were made when Venice was in the midst of terrible plague, suffering no doubt reflected in The Brazen Serpent. In Moses drawing water from the Rock we have an almost Aquarian flow of the water of life, with Moses standing like a world server between heaven and earth.

In the Italian Renaissance we have the second, fourth and sixth rays making through art an iconic bridging, an attempt at the antahkarana in relation to the Eternal Now, with the soul and angels and nature invoking God through Christ. In the Age of Aquarius we will have rays one, two, four and seven at work. Perhaps the art of the Renaissance is sometimes mystical, and sometimes revelatory, while art of the future might be more expressive of spiritual realities, and more in terms of joy than suffering. It will aid in the visualisation of synthesis and enable the expansion of consciousness and the sense of livingness in form, involving the rays and time cycles, and somewhat reflective of the Great Revelation involving the seven kingdoms of nature. Of course, we cannot expect the expression of the sound and colour of Sanat Kumara’s daily living, but more intermediate expression of development depending on ray influence, and an expression of the Real which will condition the new civilisation.

In the nearer future lies the revelation of the world of meaning and the use of the creative imagination, the encouragement of a sensitive response to ideas. Works in future might make use of sound and light and be of a fourth-dimensional nature. Remarkable things can already be done with computers, and we might look for holographic art, perhaps in cooperation with devas. In the Renaissance we had painted angels; in the new renaissance we might have the influence of real angels. Spiritual light might shine in place of pigment. Christ will be living at the heart of humanity and not hanging on a Cross.