Plato's The Republic and The Old Testament
A Buddhist teaching suggests that practicing Buddhism is like taking a raft over a great river. One riverbank represents the realm of ‘samsara,’ the cycle of suffering that we are all spinning around in. On the other side is ‘wakefulness,’ or ‘nirvana,’ an enlightened state of awareness characterized by an infinite sense of unity and bliss. The raft symbolizes Buddhism; its purpose being to help us cross over from samsara to nirvana. According to the teaching, however, a curious thing happens to the individual who manages to reach the ‘banks of enlightenment.’ Having climbed off of the raft, she turns around to discover that she cannot now see any riverbank on the side from which she departed. In fact, she realizes that there is no river, no raft, and – to her pure astonishment – no Buddha at all! (Zimmer, 82-90)
The story is a way of reminding us that the state of wakefulness involves an experience of reality so utterly beyond linear comprehension, so overwhelming and indescribable, and so categorically unlike anything one could possibly imagine or articulate in finite terms, that even the means of achieving it are, at best, illusory roadmaps – roadmaps that use boundaries in an attempt to help people grasp a condition of being that has no boundaries. Thus, in essence, it would never be possible to attain a complete understanding of wakefulness using Buddhism or any other practice or paradigm arising out of the substrate of finite consciousness. It could be said that systems like Buddhism are limited to pointing us in an appropriate direction or helping us to look in places where we might be more likely to become enlightened. They may embody or convey truth in one form or another, but as an inevitable consequence of their fixed and limited nature, do not represent the whole of Truth as it exists in the ultimate sense.
From such an understanding, it is well reasoned to develop an interpretive framework for analyzing such systems that is rooted in what Ken Wilber, borrowing from Leibniz and Huxley, refers to as the Perennial Philosophy. (7-8) This is the idea that the world’s great religions and wisdom traditions possess a “transcendental unity”. That is, manuscripts and teachings the world over, spanning thousands of years of human history, can be viewed as together describing one unified vision of the cosmos. In this way, each text is like a section on a quilted tapestry, seeming to approach reality from a distinctive position due to the unique contextual medium out of which it emerges, but essentially congruent with the other sections in terms of certain key themes and ideas. This being the case, the entire tapestry, of course, is likely to provide us with a more acute representation of those themes and ideas than would any individual portion thereof.
The Perennial Philosophy, then, is exactly the point of view I will work from as I elucidate the connections between Plato’s...