Dear Robert Schmidt,
As you well know, I am not trained in Hellenistic astrology, so please forgive me for kind of intruding here, if it seems I am. I do have a question that, while not directly astrological, still relates to astrology, if only obliquely. Here goes:
In Plato’s theory of recollection (Anamnesis) presented in the “Meno,” he suggests a means of recollection, a way of remembering, and the suggestion is that much of learning is a remembering of what was somehow forgotten through the shock of birth. He goes on to make the argument that if you don’t already know what you are looking for, how on earth could you know it when you find it? You don’t know what you are looking for, and so on.
I am sure am not doing justice to the argument, but the point I want to fix here is that there is some wise (or timeless) knowledge that is not only beyond our personal reincarnation, but is something like: eternal. In other words, we once were enlightened or “knew,’ and somehow we have forgotten our true or eternal nature. But we can recollect it.
On the other hand, the Buddhists teach that, although we all have Buddha Nature within us, we each have never managed to get clear or aware enough to see that true nature, so we are not now aware of it. In other words, our own habits and the karma that we have accumulated from our actions in this life (and in any previous lives) have (up to now) somehow always managed to obscure our inner or true nature – the true nature of the mind. They go on to suggest that these obscurations only need to be removed to reveal that nature.
Buddhists holds that there IS such a thing as undefiled Buddha Nature (read: true nature of the mind) and, like the Sun, it is forever shining deep within our mind. By “deep within the mind,” I mean here that “Buddha Nature” is the true nature of the mind that is beneath whatever manner of obscurations we happen to be carrying around. We are not aware (cannot yet see) our own Buddha Nature (the true nature of the mind) because of the karmic layers or obscurations we have accumulated and continue to accumulate. Furthermore, to become aware of Buddha nature, we would have to (somehow) remove enough of the layers of obscuration (whatever is obscuring this awareness) to see or become aware of that true nature.
This concept of accumulated obscurations is not just a notion confined to Buddhism alone. The idea of removing what obscures us, polishing the mirror (so to speak) so that we can see clearly (develop awareness), occurs in many religions and esoteric disciplines. It is almost a standard.
In Platonic thought, remembering implies that you once knew, have somehow forgotten, and only need to be reminded, to remember. In Buddhism, much is made of the fact that while there is such a thing as knowing the true nature of the mind, either you know it (realize it) or you don’t, and if you don’t know it, you have NEVER known it up to now. I hope the difference between these two approaches is clear.
The theory of Platonic recollection presented in the Meno (and continued in the Phaedo), and the somewhat different approach that appears in the Phaedrus suggests that we already know (or have known) that which we are trying to uncover or remember, while Buddhism (as I understand it) suggests that we don’t even yet know what we are working to uncover. The Platonic view seems to suggest that if we do not somehow already know what we are looking for, then we will never find it, and so on.
As an aside, it is a fact that in Buddhist practice, your two worst enemies are said to be hope and fear. Expectations about what you don’t know (but think you know) can be a huge barrier to awareness.
Buddhists have no trouble with individuals recollecting details of previous births or carrying the state of their dharma achievements (and karma) from one life to another. However, they do state that beyond this more superficial type of recollection (previous lives, etc.) that none of us undergoing reincarnation have ever previously known the true nature of our mind up to this very moment – right now. That is: we are not on a journey of remembering or recollection of that true nature, but rather on the journey of becoming aware of (for the very first time) of the true nature of our mind. In Buddhism, when we FULLY realize the true nature of the mind, we become a Buddha, and that realization is permanent. We cannot by definition fall back or fail to recollect it. In other words, we don’t realize it, fall back for a while, and then realize it again – that idea.
These kind of distinctions may seem pedantic, for which I apologize, but they do have implications. In the Platonic view, it seems we could be endlessly knowing and forgetting the essential or true nature of the mind (touching in to the eternal), and therefore realization is no kind of permanent state. Or: at the very least we have known it before.
In Buddhist thought, at least as I understand it, we don’t know and have never known the true nature of the mind through all the time there is up to now. We are driven forward and backward (hither and thither) through endless lifetimes simply by a strong desire to obtain happiness and avoid suffering, much like what we see going around us in the natural world, where animals prey on other animals, while themselves living in perpetual fear of being eaten, and so on.
If we DID (once upon a time) know the true nature of our mind, then there might be some deep inner confidence or conviction (way back in there) that could aid us or give us the necessary increased self-confidence to stick to a regimen or practice schedule (discipline) to regain the realization that we (as Plato suggests) have so long ago lost.
However, if we have never actually yet known and realized the true nature of the mind (as Buddhist believe), then we probably cannot count on simply somehow jogging our memory, and having some deep-seated recollection (and the accompanying measure of self confidence it might provide) to propel us forward, and this fact might affect the process of how we go about becoming aware of our true nature, that is: our particular path to enlightenment.
Considering that none of us reading this are probably enlightened, what difference could these views possibly make? Perhaps not much, but there is one issue that I can see that could be important. If there is no previous experience of enlightenment or realization (whatever we could agree to call it) deep within our consciousness and history, then we won’t be touching back into that… ever. There would be no memories there to prompt us or to give us a truer idea of what we are after. We have never had the experience.
If that is the case, then we don’t know what enlightenment is like (have no ancestral memory of it) and can have only our own expectations, what we have read or heard, and our own hopes and expectations to go on. In other words, it will be up to us to find our way beyond whatever current obscurations we have accumulated, up to us to find the energy and drive to work through all of that material, and up to us to keep on keepin’ on, so to speak. We can’t look back into our past or sub consciousness for clues, but only forward to glimpses of insight into possible enlightenment in our future. And why is that a problem?
In Plato’s version, we might hope to remember our past glory and also get insights into our future recapturing of that – two possible sources of confidence. In the Buddhist view, we have never known enlightenment (or whatever we can agree to call it) and have only the hope for future insights to guide us, if we are lucky. And those insights are not based on any real experience we have had of our goal. No memory. And here is the rub:
We may feel pretty confident of our self, but according to the Buddhists, in all the time that has elapsed in the universe, the sentient being or consciousness we each are has never managed to find our way to enlightenment yet. I know we all have great expectations, but we also have no accomplishment of enlightenment to point to, no experience of it. I know Buddha did it by himself, but it took him eons to get to that particular lifetime, so we are told.
Perhaps this I why practicing Buddhists make a case for the value of the Buddha’s teaching. Aside from the Buddha’s example, two things were left: (1) his teachings (The Dharma), and (2) those that embody those teachings (The Sangha). The purpose of the dharma and sangha, so it is said, are to make it easier for each us to find our individual way to enlightenment, should we choose to check it out. As mentioned, we don’t have to study the Buddhist teachings or the teachings from the Sufis, the Christians, Hindus, and so forth. We are free to improvise and to come up with our own way to enlightenment. But it would be fair to say we already probably have done that to the best of our ability and look where we are.
And so, I wonder what Plato actually believed here. Or what do you believe? Are we trying to regain some paradise lost, some eternal knowing? Or, have we never known our own true nature. What do you think?